November 1, 2014

1 November 2014 Lawn

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I clear the leaves from the lawn

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


René Burri was a Swiss photographer for Magnum Photos who captured the inner sanctums of artists and revolutionaries

René Burri in 2007

René Burri in 2007 Photo: Magnum Photos/Bruno Barbey

6:29PM GMT 31 Oct 2014


René Burri, who has died aged 81, was a Swiss photographer renowned for his images of leading political, military and cultural figures of the latter half of the 20th century.

As a key member of the Magnum Photos agency, Burri made his name during the 1950s and 1960s with shadowy studies of South American cities and informal portraits of artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Burri’s most celebrated photographs, however, were his shots from 1963 of the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara chomping on a cigar in a Havana hotel.

As press photographers roamed Cuba looking for a scoop in the wake of the missile crisis, Burri was granted rare access to Guevara. At the time, the Argentine was second-in-command of the Cuban revolutionary administration, under Fidel Castro; he was Cuba’s minister for industry and director of the Banco Nacional, with his face on the two peso note. Accompanying Laura Bergquist, a reporter with Look magazine, Burri arrived at the Hotel Riviera to find Guevara on fighting form. “It was very aggressive, like a cock fight,” said Burri. “Guevara stomped around in his office like a caged tiger.”

Guevara and Laura Bergquist immediately began arguing about the crisis. “She had to take back a story for the Americans, who were still angry about the revolution, and he was trying to convince her that what happened had to happen,” recalled Burri. “For two and a half hours I could just dance around them with my camera. It was an incredible opportunity to shoot Che in all kinds of situations: smiling, furious, from the back, from the front.” He went through eight films during the interview.

One shot in particular, of Guevara leaning back and looking in one direction while his smouldering cigar juts out in another, was to become world famous. Burri, however, remained modest about his part in its popularity: “A photograph is a moment, when you press the button, it will never come back. This picture is famous thanks to the chap with the cigar, not to me.”

René Burri was born on April 9 1933 in Zurich. He took his first important photograph, aged 13, of Winston Churchill driving past him on a local street in an open-topped car. He studied at Zurich’s School of Applied Arts from 1949 to 1953, and on leaving worked as an assistant cameraman for the Swiss arm of Walt Disney Films.

In 1956 Burri joined Magnum Photos. The pioneering agency was founded in 1947 by a small group of photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, who described the cooperative as “a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually”. Burri fitted in perfectly. His first photo-essay was picked up by Time magazine.

Che Guevera by René Burri (René Burri/Magnum Photos)

He travelled widely and won commissions from Paris-Match, Stern and The New York Times. His pictures captured all of human life, from gauchos on horseback to John F Kennedy’s funeral. The geometric post-war structures of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro informed many of his best landscapes, while his work with artists and authors (Le Corbusier in his atelier; Georges Simenon out walking) taught him sensitivity: “You must not come at it like a bulldozer.”

Burri photographed South Vietnamese troops in action in the Mekong Delta and the building of the Berlin Wall. “Every time I walked away after having a gun held to my head, I thought, you’ve been lucky one more time,” he said.

In 1963, having turned down an opportunity five years earlier, he went to Cuba to photograph Castro and Guevara. While there he learnt how the latter became head of the national bank. “One of Castro’s aides asked: ‘Is there an economist in the room?’ ” recalled Burri. “To everyone’s surprise, Che stuck up his hand. Because they were all in awe of him, they voted him governor of the bank. It turns out Che had misheard the question. He thought the guy had asked: ‘Is there a Communist in the room?’ ”

Pablo Picasso in Provence by René Burri (René Burri/Magnum Photos)

Burri never discovered what Guevara thought of his famous picture. Other subjects were more forthcoming. In particular, he struck up a bond with Pablo Picasso . “For me Picasso was the ultimate man,” said Burri. “He taught me that photography is all about how you approach an image. What you do and what you don’t do. He inspired me to go beyond what you think is in front of you.”

Working in film, Burri produced documentaries on subjects including China, the Six-Day War and the artist Jean Tinguely. He also experimented with collage works.

Burri was elected chairman of Magnum France in 1982 and an honorary fellow of The Royal Photographic Society in 2002.

His many books include a retrospective, René Burri Photographs (2012), and René Burri: Impossible Reminiscences (2013).

He is survived by his second wife, Clotilde Blanc, their son, and by two children of his first marriage.

René Burri, born April 9 1933, died October 20 2014


Bored disinterested senior teenage school students in classroom with teacher in foreground Children at a state secondary school. ‘The only way to create a truly comprehensive education system would be to abolish private education altogether.’ writes Jol Miskin. Photograph: Ian Shaw/Alamy

I read the piece by Claire Hynes (A middle-class meritocracy myth, 31 October) with mounting anger – not because I care where Ms Hynes or her friends choose to send their children to school, but because I object to the use of the word scrapheap. According to Ms Hynes, if you do not get A grades, go to university and get a middle-class job (whatever that is), you are a piece of rubbish. Well, guess what? Not everyone is academic and it seems to be one of the greatest lies told to young people today that only if you get that university degree will the doors to being a worthy member of society open for you.

You might end up at 21 working in a call centre on minimum wage with £50,000 of debts when you could have gone to work there at 16 and have no debts. By the way, does that count as a middle- or working-class job? I know someone whose daughter had learning difficulties and left school with no qualifications at all. I don’t think sending her to private school would have made any difference. However, she works and has always worked as a cleaner. Presumably, Ms Hynes would consider her on the scrapheap, whereas I consider her a very useful member of society. This is the problem – we do not value so-called working-class jobs enough. These jobs are essential to all of us. While some of us are fannying about with our “important” work, we need people to stack our supermarket shelves, clean the toilets in the fancy hotels (or hospitals) we stay in, flip burgers (that much favoured example of a worst job) and all the other so-called “scrapheap” jobs we would rather not do ourselves. So why can’t we say that these are important worthwhile jobs?

It strikes me that this is a continuation of the class system. Instead of saying that anyone who actually has to go out to work to live is working class, we only put people doing certain jobs in this category. We are told that we must continually strive for upward social mobility, but that is like saying that everyone must become better than average. People are all different. We need people to do all sorts of different jobs. Please let us value all jobs and all people equally and stop using this demeaning language.
Linda Buckingham
Ickenham, Middlesex

• What a depressing piece and a complete cop-out. On the basis of Hynes’s argument, we should all give up on any injustice because the rich and powerful control the world and so we might just as well accept that and get what we can from the system – the “we” being the better-off middle class – and hope that one day others will create a better world, and then we’ll sign up to it. But only then.

To quote Hynes: “If the day ever arrives that a British government is truly committed to promoting equality of opportunity, I’ll gladly cough up the extra taxes or do whatever’s required to support it.” Very decent I’m sure, Claire. Social progress has only happened when people have taken a stand. Do we want a fairer, better education for all? I imagine Hynes does. But rather than taking a stand she chooses to perpetuate the current unfair system. And let’s not forget that most state education is absolutely fine – in spite of government policy – and to suggest otherwise is simply incorrect. The only way to create a truly comprehensive education system would be to abolish private education altogether. Hynes’s piece only strengthens my view.
Jol Miskin
Workers’ Educational Association, Yorkshire and Humber Region

• You don’t need to read Claire Hynes’s article on sending kids to private schools; just imagine the sound of a ladder being pulled up before anyone else can get on the first rung; or imagine a conscience, wrestled into submission, salving itself with a logic-defying rationalisation. Can state education survive and prosper without Ms Hynes and her offspring? I think so, but perhaps it can never be good enough for people who view extreme inequality as an opportunity to be exploited.

To support “the scrapheap”, parliament should remove charitable status from private schools, charge punitive taxes on school fees and do whatever is necessary to stop people misusing education to buy privilege.
Dominic Rayner

• Claire Hynes asks whether children from rich, middling and poor backgrounds all enjoy similar life chances by attending the same state school. Obviously not, but the presence of middle-class kids in a school challenges the less privileged to up their academic game and achieve better results. It also makes teaching more satisfying as a profession and helps attract better candidates; ergo the quality of state schools gradually improves.

Ultimately parents like Claire must do what they believe is best for their children, but if their decision might help others, then all the better.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

• Hynes says she was “assigned to the scrapheap” in her comprehensive school. Yet she can afford private education for her own children. Some scrapheap.
David Rainbird
Wallasey, Wirral

General Douglas Haig (1861-1928): poppy pioneer in the UK. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images General Douglas Haig (1861-1928): poppy pioneer in the UK. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Poppy wreaths are not “prettified and toothless” (Letters, 31 October), they do make a valid point; but to claim neutrality for the red poppy is being disingenuous. The American Moina Michael, whose idea it was in 1918 to use the red poppy to commemorate the fallen, took her inspiration from Lt Col John McCrae’s We Shall Not Sleep, now better known as In Flanders Field, which includes the unequivocal line “Take up our quarrel with the foe”.

When the red poppy came to be adopted in Britain three years later, it was promoted by the British Legion under their founding president General Douglas Haig in order to raise funds for British service personnel and their families. So yes, there may be some inference of the red poppy being partisan.

In order to commemorate all the war dead, might I suggest that, like Green party MP Caroline Lucas on BBC’s Question Time, you wear a white poppy at the same time ( Bravo, Ms Lucas.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

• Melanie Henwood’s intemperate diatribe against Jonathan Jones’s reaction to the red poppies at the Tower of London (guardianonline, 28 October) misses the point. The significance of the red poppy has been devalued by using it as a symbol of “sacrifice” and “honour” instead of solemn remembrance and a determination to end war. The Festival of Remembrance and the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph have been turned into militaristic occasions to encourage recruiting and forget the inhumanity of warfare. Does the British Legion still carry advertisements for arms dealers in the back of the programme for the Festival of Remembrance?
Tony Augarde

Downton Abbey: owned by an American company. Photograph: Nick Briggs Downton Abbey: owned by an American company. Photograph: Nick Briggs

Your article (The great British TV sell-off: who owns the UK’s favourite shows?, Media Guardian, 27 October) raises many interesting points about ownership of TV production companies in the UK. The article is correct in stating that foreign-owned companies are no longer “independent” – but it fails to add that they cannot benefit from terms-of-trade agreements or independent production quotas, which independent TV production companies enjoy. The market share of these foreign-owned companies has only marginally increased in the past five years, from 20% of network commissioned hours to 21%. The BBC is still by far the largest producer in the UK market, with 48%.

The article fails to point out that it is a two-way street. Many UK production companies have bought or invested in American companies, not least ITV, which now owns so many production companies in the US that it is the largest independent producer in America. The UK television industry is part of a global business – in which we punch well above our weight in creativity and exports. It is a sign of our success that businesses from around the globe want to invest in the UK production and broadcasting markets. You only have to look towards more protectionist countries such as France or Canada to see TV industries that are falling behind.

Finally, far from it being a problem that British firms are being taken over, we should look to the hundreds of TV production companies, currently members of Pact, to see that independent television is still a thriving British industry.
John McVay
Chief executive, Pact (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television)

So the British immigration system is in chaos as “IT failures cost £1bn” (Report, 29 October). Would there be any merit in an article describing government IT projects that have actually worked – ie come in on time and within budget and do what they are supposed to do? Might it be a rather short article?
Patrick Donnelly
Bangor, County Down

• I never do any DIY (Letters, 31 October). For every nail that I hammer in, shelf that I put up, room that I paint or paper, I am depriving some honest local tradesman of his daily bread. I support local artisans. Well, that’s my excuse.
Terence Hall

• Gaby Hinsliff may argue that Feminism is for everyone – even men and Tories (30 October), but since the T-shirts cost £45 a time, looking like a feminist might be more a question of one’s bank balance than one’s politics.
Derrick Cameron



Sir, Being mayor of Calais does not make Natacha Bouchart an expert on the motivation of refugees and economic migrants (“Calais goes to war over ‘soft touch’ UK benefits”, news, Oct 29). Most UK immigrants are inspired by the fact that there is already a community from their own country established here, usually in London. It is the network of support and comfort they can receive from their fellow Somalis, Ethiopians, Syrians and Libyans, rather than any cash benefit, that drives them. They may also be aware that Britain is one of the few EU countries where no racist mass round-up and murder of any minority ethnic group has occurred.
Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Sir, The UK’s generous benefit system is a great magnet for migrants, and equally attractive is the NHS. We can never eradicate the human desire to migrate. What Britain can do is help other nations to provide their citizens with healthcare and social benefits.

For example, Camp Bastion should be converted into a kind of basic healthcare facility for the Afghan people rather than left as a ghost town.

This will reduce pressure on Afghan people who might be considering migrating to the UK. This would be beneficial to the UK economy as well as support Afghans as they emerge from the devastating effects of war.
Nikhil Kaushik

Sir, Migrant movement would not be stopped by UK departure from the EU. Nor would the problem be stopped by statutory attempts to cut off state support from migrants.

The courts would not enforce governmental attempts to allow migrants to starve and become ill.

The state’s obligation to provide support and subsistence to protect those whose life and health would otherwise be seriously threatened does not depend on governmental aims. It depends on what the courts have called “the law of humanity, which is anterior to all . . . laws” (R v Inhabitants of Eastbourne 1803).
Roger McCarthy QC
London, WC1

Sir, I am sure that I am not alone in feeling pride in the fact that so many immigrants regard Britain as a “soft touch”. It implies generosity and kindness. I am proud of the many voluntary organisations which help immigrants. Of course there are bad apples, but most are just ordinary people simply trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. It would be naive to suppose that all can be accommodated in our overcrowded island, but the recent denigration of immigrants and the use of the word “swamping” is a cause for shame.

Where are the brave, idealistic politicians appealing to our values of tolerance and decency instead of the grubby votecatchers playing to our lowest instincts?
Kathryn Dobson

Sir, Those of us opposed to present levels of immigration are not anti-immigrant. I for one oppose further large-scale immigration on the grounds that England, the recipient of 90 per cent of immigrants to Britain, is overpopulated. France with a land area of 210,000 sq miles has 66 million people. England, with a land area 50,000 sq miles has 50 million. We do not have the land area, infrastructure or resources to accommodate millions more people. As long as we remain part of the EU, under present arrangements we shall be swamped by numbers.

A responsible government would put the welfare of our population before the wishes of would-be immigrants. An even more responsible government would plan future taxation and benefit policies aimed at reducing the present unsustainable population growth.
Richard English
South Petherton, Somerset

Sir, It is always important that teachers are given the resources to support children starting school who do not speak English as a first language (“Schools need help to cope with migrants,” Ofsted says, News, Oct 31). The government must also invest in improving English language for migrant families so that parents can reinforce their child’s learning at home and work with teachers to raise attainment.
Julian Stanley
Chief executive, Teacher Support Network Group, London N5

Sir, My son has recently moved to work in Bulgaria. Thanks to EU rules, he has been able to do this with a minimum of fuss. He has been cordially received and no-one has accused him of swamping them or stealing their job. What a wonderful thing is the free movement of people.
Andrew Neame
Faversham, Kent

Sir, Michael Pean would like Londoners to acknowledge that “the North” is Tyneside rather than Manchester (letter, Oct 29). I moved from Manchester to Edinburgh many years ago and when I took a holiday cottage in the Western Highlands, a neighbour asked me where I came from. “Edinburgh,” I proudly replied in my new found Scottish accent. “Och, a Southerner” he said dismissively.
Dr John Burton

North Perrott, Somerset

Sir, I am surprised by your leader (“Play up, there is nothing wrong with giving people what they want,” Oct 30).

Van Morrison’s Albert Hall performance — part of the annual BluesFest — was dazzling. No, it did not include Moondance, but this was not a jazz event. Running to less than two hours, the set might have seemed short, but we should not confuse quality with quantity.

Van Morrison did not squander time on banter, introductions or tunings and he delivered an evening of pure blues magic.

It is refreshing when the artist does not feel obliged to deliver the now seemingly obligatory, self-indulgent, encore. We left feeling satisfied and uplifted.
Lynn Hale
Woodmansterne, Surrey

Sir, When I joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) in 1960, our standard-issue uniform included white shirts and detachable collars, heavily starched by the laundry. Not only were the collar studs uncomfortable, but the razor-sharp folded collar scratched our necks, leaving unsightly red marks. This could be neutralised by the application of candlewax along the collar edge.
Fay Hepworth
Chelmsford, Essex

Sir, Politicians love quoting Churchill. Why did they not heed the words he wrote in 1897 on military action in Afghanistan? “Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Politically it is a blunder.”
Lord Lexden
House of Lords, London

Sir, David Cameron considers cutting taxes to be a moral duty (leading article, Oct 30) and I can imagine voters rubbing their hands together at the prospect of being £3,800 a year better off. However, is it not also a moral duty for the government to ensure that less fortunate members of our “civilised” society are adequately provided for? I refer particularly to the disabled and the mentally ill who, according to recent reports, are not getting a fair deal. Mr Cameron would stand a better chance of getting my vote if, rather than giving me an extra £3,800 a year, he promised to use that money to provide frontline staff in the NHS wherever the need is greatest.
John Stock
Hadleigh, Suffolk


The soldier who embodied multi-ethnic war effort

Sepoy Khudadad Khan was the first Indian soldier to receive the Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross (left): awarded for valour 'in the face of the enemy'

The Victoria Cross (left): awarded for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’ Photo: National News

6:56AM GMT 31 Oct 2014


SIR – As we will soon come together to remember all those whose lives have been lost in conflict, we wish today to highlight one man whose service exemplified the courage of many who served in the First World War.

One hundred years ago on this day, Sepoy Khudadad Khan, of the 129th Baluchis, became the first Indian soldier to receive Britain’s highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross. Khan’s regiment was supporting the British Expeditionary Force to prevent German troops taking vital ports in France and Belgium.

As the line was pushed back, the machine gunner, badly wounded and massively outnumbered, held off the German advance long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive and prevent the enemy making the final breakthrough. He was the sole survivor of his team.

The First World War brought together soldiers from across the Empire to fight for Britain. Born in what is now Pakistan, Khan was just one of the 1.2 million Indian soldiers, and the 400,000 Muslims, who fought alongside British troops in 1914.

It is important today that all of our children know this shared history of contribution and sacrifice if we are to understand fully the multi-ethnic Britain that we are today. The gallant Sepoy Khan embodies that history.

General Lord Dannatt
Former Chief of the General Staff

Lord Richards of Herstmonceux
Former Chief of the Defence Staff

Major-General Tim Cross (retd)

Professor Sir Hew Strachan

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon

Lord Ashcroft

Amjad Bashir MEP
UKIP communities spokesman

Sughra Ahmed
President, Islamic Society, Britain

Baroness Warsi

Baroness Berridge

Dan Jarvis MP (Labour)

Damian Collins MP (Con)

Dilwar Hussain
Chair, New Horizons in British Islam>

Sunder Katwala
Director, British Future

Mihir Bose

Afzal Amin PPC (Con)

Major Hugo Clarke (retd)
Curzon Institute

Keith Simpson MP (Con)

Jahan Mahmood

Rt Hon John Denham MP (Lab)

Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP (Lab)

In Flanders Field the poppies blow: a horse wears the symbolic flower on Remembrance Day Photo: Alamy

6:57AM GMT 31 Oct 2014


SIR – Major John Cann asks if there is a correct date to start wearing a poppy.

I think it seems appropriate that we wear a poppy for the 11 days leading up to and including the 11th day of the 11th month.

However, it is an individual decision. Those who fell gave their lives so that we might have freedom of choice.

Douglas Ritchie

SIR – I was told that you don’t wear your poppy till you’ve let off your fireworks.

David Blackman
Gravesend, Kent

SIR – Is there a correct date on which to write to The Daily Telegraph to ask which date to start wearing a poppy? It seems to get earlier every year.

Andrew Warby
Woodley, Berkshire

Chopin spuds

SIR – Has anyone noticed a trend for classical-themed potatoes?

Sainsbury’s sell Vivaldi, Marks & Spencer sell Chopin and Waitrose sell Mozart.

Jean Cheesman and Ruth Dowding
Orpington, Kent

Six feet under

SIR – It wasn’t just Spike Milligan; Peter Cook asked to be buried beneath his resident’s parking space.

Peter Fineman
Mere, Wiltshire

Hollaback girl

SIR – Why all the fuss about blokes shouting out comments to women (“Woman catcalled 108 times as she walks around New York”, report, October 29)?

When I was eight months pregnant, a man I passed shouted about how fat I was. I quickly responded: “In a couple of weeks I’ll be slim again, but you’ll still be as thick as a plank.”

Iris Dainton
South Somercotes, Lincolnshire

It’s no wonder

SIR – For my part, I wonder how Nick Robinson of the BBC pronounces wander, and I worry.

Felicity McWeeney
Hartburn, Northumberland

Schools need to do more to encourage physical and mental health

Going for glory: the playing field might be excellent, the teams perhaps not - Keep the flame alive: we were game and gave it a go

Children must learn to take responsibility for their physical and mental health Photo: Alamy

6:58AM GMT 31 Oct 2014


SIR – At last, a health secretary who argues that it is much better to prevent people becoming ill than to spend billions looking after them once avoidable illness has occurred.

Now Jeremy Hunt needs to talk to Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary. Schools across Britain should be doing far more to encourage physical and mental health.

At present, schools are judged merely by their exam records. They should also nurture personal responsibility for healthy living in the young, an idea that would stay with them for life.

Sir Anthony Seldon
Master, Wellington College
Crowthorne, Berkshire

Fighting child abuse

SIR – We have read, with anguish, the reports of child abuse in Britain. Because of ill-treatment, these children will be scarred for the rest of their lives.

There are two issues here. First, why are homes (often care homes) so unhappy that children find the streets more acceptable? Secondly, what should be done with the perverted men who exploit children for sordid gratification and monetary gain?

The police have said they will make the children their first priority. We believe that they should focus on the men; naming them, shaming them and locking them up should be the aim.

Ruth and Eric Howarth
Bourne, Lincolnshire

High price of holidays

SIR – Judith Woods says that she paid a 25 per cent premium when renting a holiday cottage this week, just because it is half-term. She says that “market forces” prevail, but then talks about “ratcheting up the prices”.

I co-own a holiday bungalow in north Devon. This is run as a business, with a view to making a profit. Much as we would love our house to be booked throughout the year, people are not keen to visit a seaside bungalow in the middle of winter – Christmas and New Year excepted. We would welcome visitors in January, paying one third of the price we charge at the height of the season, though running costs, such as heating, are higher in winter.

In a very good year, we can let our property for up to 35 weeks. We still have to bear the costs during the 17 vacant weeks, including gas and electricity, television licence, wi-fi, and maintenance, and we have to make our mortgage payments every month, regardless of whether any income has been received. We know how much income we need in a year – and that most of it must be earned during school holidays and in July or September.

Denis Fuller
Camberley, Surrey

Justice: Grünenthal, a German pharmaceutical company, produced Thalidomide

6:59AM GMT 31 Oct 2014


SIR – The Thalidomide scandal almost six decades ago continues to have a serious impact on thousands of people who were born severely disabled. Independent reports show that over the past 10 to 15 years, many European Thalidomide survivors have seen their health decline, experiencing complex and continuing health problems.

Several EU countries have still not put in place a formal compensation scheme, while in others the compensation available is not sufficient to meet victims’ health and independent living costs. At the time of the original legal action, a lack of clear evidence prevented lawyers from making the case for a just settlement. This was particularly the case in Germany.

Knowing what we now know, surely the German government has an obligation to meet the needs of the few remaining European Thalidomide survivors?

German ministers should meet representatives of those survivors, with a view to sympathetic consideration of the cases of victims in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Britain.

Syed Kamall MEP (Con)
New Malden, Surrey

Qualified earners

SIR – Private school pupils may be earning more a year than their peers, but we should remember that many of these pupils attended academically selective private schools.

If the statistics were examined, I imagine there would be a correlation between the high-earners and their schools’ success in the A-level results league table.

Noeleen Murphy
London SE22

Members of the Italian Navy helping refugees to climb on their boat in the Mediterranean sea after a rescue operation Photo: AFP/Getty Images

7:00AM GMT 31 Oct 2014


SIR – On the same day that Sir Nicholas Winton was honoured for rescuing 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in 1939 by transporting them to Britain (“‘Britain’s Schindler’ honoured by Czechs”), the British Government explained that, in future, it would be allowing desperate refugees to drown in the Mediterranean pour encourager les autres. We have lost our humanity.

Dorothy Armstrong
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – That Ed Miliband has the gall to criticise David Cameron on the subject of immigration control is beyond belief. For 13 years Labour did nothing but let the hordes roll in while promoting diversity – look where that has left us.

Richard Morris
Lutterworth, Leicestershire

SIR – Whether immigration rates are high or low, it is always important that teachers are given the resources to support children starting school who do not speak English as a first language (“Schools ‘aren’t given resources to handle influx’ ”).

But the Government must also invest in improving English language skills in migrant families so that parents can reinforce their child’s learning at home and work with teachers to raise attainment.

Ministers must help all parents – migrants or British-born – to ensure that their children are ready for school, whether that is through health, housing or employment policy, so that teachers can focus on their job: teaching.

Julian Stanley
Chief Executive, Teacher Support Network Group
London N5

SIR – As a former immigration officer, I can vouch for the fact that many migrants, when asked why they travel through other European Union countries to arrive finally in Britain, say that “the UK has human rights”, as if no other EU country has them. They also praise the access to housing, schools, the NHS, etc, that comes with seeking asylum in Britain.

I believe I did my job with open eyes, heart and mind; meeting different people every day from all corners of the globe was a wonderful education, and taught me both tolerance and understanding of my fellow man. I sincerely welcome Andrew Green’s sentiment that we should discuss immigration rationally; it’s a complicated subject that deserves reasoned debate rather than glib sound bites.

Liz Edmunds
Hassocks, West Sussex

SIR – Can the customs officers who decided that Becky the Senegal parrot did not have the correct paperwork to enter Britain be put in charge of immigration?

Ilona Hopkins
Margate, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – I discussed this issue with a colleague from Greece. He is used to paying for water, but told me the bill at his parents’ house in Athens gets as high as €8 a month in summer. I cannot confirm this but I am going to make a wild guess – by 2017 we will have the dearest water in Europe. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The Government has been repeatedly criticised for “failing to reform” and for not delivering “new politics” – however it’s clear that the public does not want meaningful changes in how Ireland is run.

The property tax, meant to smooth cyclical tax revenues, was resisted tooth and nail despite representing a tiny fraction of the value of homes; bizarrely the most vocal opponents included the Trotskyite parties.

Central Bank rules intended to reduce the cycle of boom and bust in the property market are being watered down after public uproar including from those who position themselves on the left of the political spectrum and those who advocate social justice and fairness.

Now water charges intended to support replacing the crumbling infrastructure and end the anomaly where those with private water sources subsidise their city cousins’ supply (as well as that of holiday homes, etc) through their taxes has provoked the largest marches in years. At the same time as the hoopla over Irish Water remuneration dominates the airwaves, the Government is considering reversing public sector pay cuts without first revisiting the absurd pay levels awarded under what was laughably termed benchmarking.

I hope it is a case that a vocal minority is dominating the debate – otherwise we may as well cut to the chase and bring Bertie Ahern out of retirement and be done with it. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Fionola Meredith (“Why new law banning the purchase of sex is patronising and problematic”, Opinion & Analysis, October 29th) exposes the sheer hypocrisy of the whole campaign to ban the purchase of sex and the pathetic lack of evidence to bolster it. This campaign allegedly set out to rescue sex workers from oppression and violence but did not consult these same workers who strangely don’t want to be “saved” and who provided compelling evidence why this law would put them at greater risk. This highly emotive campaign has been conducted in many countries and the methods are strikingly similar. It is run by an alliance of radical feminists and religious fundamentalists who talk in apocalyptic terms about a tide of trafficking operated by criminal gangs reaping huge profits from sex slaves who are always helpless victims. The evidence increasingly points the other way.

We are now told we must expect similar legislation to be published here before Christmas. Any such Bill introduced here will presumably be based on the report of the Oireachtas justice committee issued in June 2013 which voted unanimously in favour. But the whole process was flawed from the beginning. Turn Off the Red Light, well organised and well funded, managed to persuade a number of organisations, including six trade unions, to join it. Of the 15 justice committee members, seven had declared in favour of the proposal by the first day of hearings. There were 27 speakers on the Turn Off the Red Light side and only seven selected to speak against it.

This law has been rejected by Scotland (three times), Denmark and Finland. The French National Assembly voted for it in a near-empty chamber last December. The French senate rejected it last July after extensive consultations with sex workers who expressed alarm regarding their personal safety. The police opposed it because it would make it more difficult to tackle trafficking networks.

In the face of this evidence, much of it only known since the Oireachtas committee’s report was issued, it would be irresponsible to proceed with this measure. – Yours, etc,


Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations bring with them the promise of a new era of growth and prosperity for the citizens of the EU and the US. The aspiration to increase integration between two economies that together account for over 50 per cent of global GDP is ambitious, but long overdue. The potential increase in GDP in Ireland of at least 1.1 per cent, or about €2 billion, will rapidly convert into jobs growth, further improvement in government finances and the opportunity to invest in infrastructure and reduce personal tax and universal social charge rates.

An agreement will result in smarter, more effective and common regulation standards, a reduction in unnecessary red tape and facilitate ease of access for small and medium businesses. TTIP will be the gold standard for any future international trade deals and will cement our economies’ role in setting and raising international standards in areas such as consumer safeguards, environmental protection and employee welfare. Ireland in particular is well placed to benefit from this agreement given our strong ties to the US and our position in the value chain of many US companies.

The greatest obstacle to Europe, and Ireland, in reaching agreement lies in the misinformation that permeates much of the opposition to this agreement. For example, there has been much discussion around the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) elements of the negotiations. ISDS has long been a component of bilateral trade agreements, many involving EU member states, and provides an equitable means for investors and states to resolve disputes. Transparency of negotiations is enhanced through press conferences after each round, stakeholder meetings during each round, civil society dialogue and a very comprehensive, easily found, European Commission website.

Public debate on TTIP is to be welcomed, and we urge all stakeholders to access the array of information available in the public domain and engage in this important debate with an open mind. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Chambers Ireland,

Lower Mount Street,

Dublin 2 .

A chara, – Kathy Sheridan (“Ebola: how faith, hope and science play their part”, October 29th) seems to view the online critics of Texan nurse Nina Pham’s belief in prayer as representative of all atheists. She goes on to state that religious people doing good work are all too often “bound by label to the worst of their kind”. How interesting, then, to see her use Richard Dawkins as an example.

Prof Dawkins is in no way representative of atheists as a whole – if anything, his attitude is embarrassing to many. He is an atheist zealot, often offending and belittling those who disagree with his worldview. However, a large proportion of atheists – in this country, as in most others – would have begun life in a religious household, and been raised as part of a church. What turns many people off religion (aside from the logical/scientific arguments) is seeing the boundaries erected between “us” and “them”, between those of a particular faith (who will be saved) and everyone else (who will perish). Militancy in any context is pitiful. Militant atheism is no exception. Just let’s not pretend that atheists were the first to come up with such preening, patronising disdain. – Is mise,


Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – The discussion of the role of faith, hope and science in the cure of Texan nurse Nina Pham rather misses the point that God works, ordinarily, through natural causes. If God was going to cure Nina Pham it was always most likely he would do it through science. Not to avail of scientific means would be the sin of putting God to the test. The maxim has always been “Pray as if everything depended upon God. Act as if everything depended upon you”. – Yours, etc,


Castleknock, Dublin 15.

Sir, – The news (“National Museum considers closures and entrance fees”, Front Page, October 31st) that, because of budget and staffing cuts imposed by the Government, the National Museum of Ireland is considering closures and the introduction of entrance fees echoes our philistinism of a century ago in failing to provide a gallery for the Hugh Lane pictures. Yeats’s immortal lines about that debacle are again apposite: “What need you, being come to sense, /But fumble in a greasy till/And add the halfpence to the pence”.

The parallel here gives new meaning to our so-called “Decade of Commemorations” – no better commemoration than to repeat the folly of the past! I say to the Government, also in the words of WB Yeats, albeit in a different context: “You have disgraced yourselves again”. – Yours, etc,


Cabinteely, Dublin 18.

Sir, – There are reports that Dublin City Council is to permit the city’s buskers the use of amplification on Grafton Street for an annual fee of €60 (“Barred Temple Bar buskers to get Grafton Street reprieve”, October 28th). As the owner of a small building conservation practice located on the middle of Grafton Street, I am very concerned at this development. By way of comparison, a small office like ours located at third-floor level pays the council in excess of €1,500 annually in rates.

Grafton Street has suffered badly during the last 10 years, as is evident in the quality of the retail units on the street. Our offices are located in an elegant three-storey, over-ground floor retail unit dating from 1870. We can see down Johnson’s Court and towards the steeple of Christchurch Cathedral in Mediaeval Dublin. Sadly, our windows also afford a view of the dilapidated and empty upper floor offices of the buildings opposite. Outside of Bewley’s, Marks & Spencers, Brown Thomas and the larger department stores on the street, these units are typical of Grafton Street.

We see no advantage in turning our historic street into a 18th-century museum. As building conservation practitioners, we work to facilitate the sensitive repair of buildings and to adapt them to new and often creative new uses. At a stroke, loud amplified and uncontrolled street music removes the possibility of developing residential accommodation on or near Grafton Street and renders small office occupancy like ours impractical.

The current proposals will see Grafton Street become a karaoke ghetto and dampen hopes for its rejuvenation.

To the buskers on Grafton Street we say, “We love music but if you are good enough you are loud enough”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – Funny how the Government (“Radical changes to Civil Service structure under new plan, Kenny says”, October 31st) can so easily bring in legislation to change contracts and fire “underperforming” civil servants but when it comes to the holders of larger jobs, such as underperforming chief executives of semi-State companies appointed by the Government, it seems their contracts are immune from any such action or such employees must be awarded massive compensation before they leave. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 11.

Sir, – Perhaps this scheme could be extended to include Cabinet members. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – In response to Dr Garrett Igoe’s letter (October 30th) raising the question about the reimbursement of innovative medicines, I would just like to clarify that the State employs a process called Health Technology Assessment (HTA) to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of new medicines compared to existing medicines.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents the research-based companies that develop these medicines, has an agreement in place with the State, which requires that the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) undertakes a detailed review of all new medicines.

This process ensures that only the most cost-effective medicines are reimbursed by the State and made available to patients in Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Irish Pharmaceutical

Healthcare Association,

Wilton Place,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – In referring to the wind energy lobby’s “wind bonanza”, Colm McCarthy (October 29th) shows he is well aware of that lobby’s boundless appetite for both direct subsidy, via the iniquitous “public service obligation”, and indirect support by forcing Eirgrid into the provision of expensive transmission lines.

He fails, however, to take account of the essentially religious fervour that animates the broader green lobby. To the environmentally righteous, no element of non-fossil fuel energy can be anything but good, regardless of its costs or benefits to either the economy or the planet.

This is a mindset that is particularly impervious to reasoned argument. Good luck to Mr McCarthy in trying to convince them that “it has not been demonstrated that further wind capacity on the Irish system is a cost-effective contribution to the pressing problem of climate change”. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Your rural correspondents who complain about the failure of Eircom to deliver the heavily advertised eFibre service should not feel that there is any discrimination in favour of urban customers. Our area of Dublin (Sandymount) was eFibre enabled in April 2014; there are multiple cabinets installed in the area, the nearest about 450m from our house.

We ordered an eFibre connection six months ago; when recently queried about implementation Eircom’s response was, “At the moment I do not have a guaranteed date for availability at your address”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – I hope to wear a red poppy this November as an act of remembrance for all who have suffered because of wars and conflicts. However, I wish that we could have a slightly different poppy – a red centre bordered with a white frill. This would reflect my wish for a symbol of remembrance married to a symbol of peace. – Yours, etc,


Shankill, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I can think of no subject more likely to induce gloom in the average schoolchild than philosophy. Spare them the ramblings of the bearded cranks of yesteryear. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

The news that Brendan Howlin and co are going to gut the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009 and start the procedure to increase the public service pay bill once again, proves beyond a shadow of doubt that this Government is in full retreat from the financial policies that have brought this country back from bankruptcy.

At a time when growth is tenuous and government expenditure still outstrips public income, the Government is leaving the path of financial rectitude and taking the path of Charlie McCreevy – spend the money and spend often. Labour can foresee a large number of its TDs joining the dole queues after the next election and it’s trying to shore up its support among some of its strongest supporters – the public service unions.

It should be noted that the Government will have to make some meaningful concessions to the protesters against Irish Water. That will cost money, money which Michael Noonan will have to find elsewhere.

Add in the crisis in the ‘Fair Deal’ for nursing home patients scheme, caused by the cap on funds to finance this scheme -which is going to have to be solved sooner rather later – and the public service pay bill increases.

All in all, it is clear what direction the Government is taking – it is rapidly advancing to the rear as fast as it can to avoid electoral annihilation.

So much for courage, resolution, new politics, “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s Way” and all the other attractive platitudes that the coalition parties bombarded us with in the last general election.

We are back to the old ways – welcome back Fianna Fail. They haven’t gone away, you know.

Liam Cooke

Coolock, Dublin 17


Picture perfect

The theft this week of an important Paul Henry painting (among others) brought me back to a visit in the summer of 1961 to a small gallery of his works in an oasis-like property deep in Connemara – incidentally, a mere three years after the artist’s death in Co Wicklow.

We were a class of callow spiritual-year seminarians based in Athenry on a much needed “day out”, led by our formidable novice master keen on imparting a little culture to his charges.

As we waited in an ante-room for the curator and our ensuing tour of the exhibits, a visibly nervous Fr McDonnell whispered loudly over his shoulder: “Now, brothers, try to look intelligent!”

Oliver McGrane

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16


High costs of owning a well

Having looked at the relief available for the water charges, I understand a rebate is being given to people who are served by the main supply (Irish Independent, October 30).

But I would be very pleased if you could tell me what relief I shall be entitled to as I have my own well and pay the following per year, which amounts to just over a €1000:

l A bag of salt per week is €10 which comes to €520 per year.

l Filters €120 per year.

l Service €100 per year.

l Electricity supply for pumphouse, approx €46 every two months.

If I had a choice I would gladly pay the charges for water if I was able to connect to the main supply, but unfortunately we had no choice but to have our own well as we have no access to the mains. I know there are many other houses in similar situations

I feel this should be highlighted as people don’t realise the costs involved if they have to drill there own well.

Ann Kelly

Address with editor


Leaks at Irish Water

Apparently Irish Water is seeking a data protection officer. Will he/she be able to stop the leaks ?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont D9


Utilities belong to the people

How correct letter writer Donal Deering (Irish Independent, October 30) was in making the analogy between Irish Water and Bord Gais Energy. Before Irish Water is three-quarters established, it is my guess that we could see it flogged-off under the disguise of a Bord Gais quango to some foreign non-entity at one-third of its initiation costs.

And adding to the sting, the employees will share in the spoils, possibly to the tune of many millions.

This was so when Bord Gais Energy, a constituent part of the main holding company, was sold to UK company Centricia for less than €1bn.

The Whitegate Power Plant alone is reputed to have cost over €400m to build, although its sale value was a little over €100m. Are taxpayers going to suffer a similar write-down on Irish Water?

The instigator, former Environment Minister Phil Hogan, jumped the fence to sweeter pickings even without seeing his ‘baby’ successfully launched. Too aware, of course, the terrible additional burden he had inflicted on his brethren.

Take care that Irish Water under the blanket cover of Bord Gais doesn’t ‘skip it’ as fast as Phil! All utilities should be owned and protected by the State, with only the consumers and taxpayers benefiting from them.

We don’t want more blood baths like Telecom.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary


Thoughts on charges

I wish to make the following comments. The idea does not hold water – like most of the pipes. Europe having this imposition is not a valid argument – continental drainage is not incontinent.

Dr C Dupont

Dublin 4


A nation of whingers

Regarding the water charges – our reaction proves that we have become a nation of whingers. People ask why we don’t get a reduction in tax now we are being asked to pay water charges?

The answer is simple – the Government is still borrowing €600m per month to run the country. We are still in a bankrupt state. People complain about having to submit their PRSI numbers – well if you want a free allowance of water, you need to supply your PRSI number to prove your identification; if you don’t want a free allowance of water, then don’t supply your details. But stop whinging about it!

I know people who spent hundreds of euro getting to Dublin for the weekend for the protest marches – to say they couldn’t afford the water charges.

Eunan McNeill

Knocknacarra, Galway


Can pay – but can’t be bothered

I wonder how many people taking part in marches against water charges today will stop off along the routes to buy bottles of Ballygowan, River Rock etc to wet their throats so they can shout all the louder.

Reminds me of the protesters against mobile phone masts when they used to keep in touch via mobile phone.

How about the big demonstration by farmers a number of years ago, when “poor” farmers drove their new and almost new tractors through the streets of the capital.

How about people objecting to the €160 TV licence fee who don’t mind paying upwards of €50 or €60 to a foreign company supplying monthly satellite services.

Wasn’t Joan Burton ridiculed recently for pointing out the amount of expensive smart phones anti-water protesters were using?

I wonder, instead of ‘can’t pay, won’t pay’, is it not a case of ‘couldn’t be bothered,’ that is happening here.

Thomas Roddy

Salthill, Co Galway

Irish Independent


October 31, 2014

31 October 2014 Astrid

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day Astrid come to visit something about chairs ...

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Brigadier Robert Long was an officer who kept the IRA at bay in the Lower Falls and was once surprised, while shaving, by an anaconda

Brigadier Robert Long with the Princess of Wales in 1992

Brigadier Robert Long with the Princess of Wales in 1992 Photo: The Telegraph

6:50PM GMT 30 Oct 2014


Brigadier Robert Long, who has died aged 77, had a distinguished career in the Army and was awarded an MC in Northern Ireland in 1972.

Long commanded a company of 1st Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment in the Lower Falls area of Belfast in 1972. Details of operational awards in the Province are still restricted but what can be stated is that during an exhausting four-month tour, while under considerable pressure and maintaining strict discipline, he never allowed the Provisional IRA to take the initiative.

Robert George Long was born on January 30 1937 in Calcutta, where his father was the adjutant of 7th Rajput Regiment. Always known as Bob, he was brought up near Fareham, Hampshire, and educated at Sherborne before being called up for National Service and commissioned into the Royal Hampshire Regiment.

After National Service in Germany, Long went up to Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read PPE. He then worked for an oil company but found the work uncongenial and, in 1961, he rejoined his regiment with a regular commission. He experienced his first action in Georgetown, British Guiana, clearing rioters from burning streets. His second was the occasion when he was having a shave in the river and did not notice a log-like object passing over his feet. A soldier shouted that it was an anaconda. Long never moved so fast in his life.

He volunteered for secondment to the Malaysian Rangers and served in Borneo during the Confrontation. After a tour with the UN Force in Cyprus he attended, as a student, the first of his three periods of service at the Staff College, Camberley.

Following regimental service with 1 Glosters in Germany and a return to Staff College in an administrative capacity, he moved to Whitehall as military assistant to the quartermaster general.

In l977 Long assumed command of the Royal Hampshires in Northern Ireland. It was a period which included the Queen’s Jubilee visit and considerable activity on the part of the IRA. His unruffled determination to give full support to the RUC was recognised by a Mention in Despatches at the end of a long tour.

After a posting back to the Ministry of Defence, he made a great success of running the adjutant general’s secretariat and was appointed OBE in 1982. He then returned to the Staff College as one of three Colonels General Staff .

Promoted to brigadier in 1985, he took command of 42 Infantry Brigade, based in Chester, and was responsible for two regular battalions and eight TA units covering the North West of England.

In 1986 Long was appointed Colonel of the Royal Hampshire Regiment. It was a time of cutbacks and he did all he could to ensure that the careers of those serving did not suffer. The Royal Hampshires merged with the Queen’s Regiment in 1992 to become the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

Long was appointed CBE in 1988. He became chief of staff at the Directorate of Infantry before retiring from the Army the following year, when he immediately took over the appointment of secretary of Eastern Wessex TAVRA .

Old motor cars were his great passion and he and his wife used to drive his Morgan to rallies in France and Spain . Settled in Over Wallop, Hampshire, Long was a stalwart supporter of his church.

Bob Long married, in 1966, Allison Firth, who survives him with their son and two daughters.

Brigadier Robert Long, born January 30 1937, died September 19 2014


NHS new chief executive Chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens (centre), talking to staff at at Shotley Bridge Hospital in County Durham. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Perhaps Simon Stevens should rethink his defence of private finance initiative contracts in the NHS (The NHS is on life support. Can this plan revive it?, 24 October). Last year it required a massive public campaign to prevent the illegal downgrading or closure of A&E and maternity services at Lewisham hospital which was proposed in response to the problems in an adjacent hospital suffering crippling PFI payments. Lewisham hospital is now part of a new NHS trust and is once again threatened by extortionate PFI payments.

Our research shows the trust could save up to £18m a year by challenging the PFI profiteers. In the last financial year, the PFI companies’ accounts list a profit of £7.49m from service contracts and £1.82m for directors’ remuneration and “administrative costs”. The annual interest repayments were approximately £18m. The average interest charges on PFI contracts is 8% per annum, but borrowing through government – the standard before PFIs were forced on public authorities – is half that, reducing the trust’s charges to £9m. These unjustified costs totalling £18m represent a 46% reduction in the trust’s current annual PFI “unitary payment” of £39m.

By 2020-21, the annual costs of the 118 NHS PFIs will be £2.14bn; saving 46% of that would release about £1bn a year. And that is before considering profits on the service subcontracts, that PFIs were never value for money and skewed the very form of the tender. Time to stop PFI contracts draining precious public money from the NHS into the pockets of fatcats.
Helen Mercer
Drop the NHS Debt

• Stevens’s plans have many useful elements: care at home, new relationships to match medical developments, action to discourage unhealthy behaviour all seem wonderful. However, Stevens evaded the questions on the Today programme when asked about the large quantity of new contracts going to private providers. Polly Toynbee says that his document does not refer to competition. He does not need to mention competition in a document. He can just let it take hold while underplaying its significance.

On 23 October I followed up reading the report with sitting in a meeting run by our local commissioning group. The same fantasy opened the meeting. Under pressure, the commissioners had to admit to being clueless about the debts that are rapidly building up. This needs some realism about money that none of the three major parties have shown.
Geoff Barr
Exeter Keep Our NHS Public

• We are told Stevens has “big plans” for the NHS, including “big improvements in mental health services”. One such improvement will be to “introduce standards for getting access to mental health in the same way that has been present for hip replacements and cataracts”. In this connection it is interesting to note that South-West London and St George’s mental health NHS trust has recently made the majority of its senior and experienced therapists working in child and adolescent mental health redundant. At least one NHS trust is not on board with Mr Stevens’s agenda.
David Benton
Department of neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology, UCL

• MPs are right to be cautious about healthcare measures that do not have a strong evidence base (Patients not warned about risks of cancer screening, 29 October), and clear risk benefit ratios. We also support the science and technology committee’s call for more information for patients before screening. However, with over 2 million people living with undiagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the UK, and late diagnosis one of the key reasons why UK lung cancer survival lags so far behind Europe and the US, it is vital that the potential benefits of screening and the health check are not dismissed altogether.

Early research indicates that screening for lung cancer could be extremely effective in diagnosing patients earlier. Introducing questions on breathlessness and lung function assessments like spirometry into the health check could also help tackle the burden of COPD and lung disease. Some of the reporting around the committee’s recommendations risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to screening. For people with lung disease, which kills 120,000 people a year in the UK but is not yet routinely screened for, this could prove a fatal mistake.
Dr Penny Woods
Chief executive, British Lung Foundation

• In 1983 the NHS spent 5% of its income on management while the US spent nearly 27%. After 30 years of “reforms” and “improvements”, the NHS now spends around 15% on management and the US over 30%. This is insane. Reduce spending on management to 10%. Make it a legal duty not to exceed that and the financial problems disappear.
Philip Clayton

• So, Lord Steel and Lady Williams were “very troubled” by the proposals to curb judicial review rights (Report, 28 October). It’s a pity neither of them felt even slightly troubled by the NHS reforms. I hope it’s not a question of the fees charged by the legal profession?
Helen Hughes
Ludlow, Shropshire

Doctors with backpacks loaded with medication in Havana, Cuba Doctors in Havana in 2005 await the US response after the Cuban government offered to send medics to ease the humanitarian disaster after Hurricane Katrina. Photograph: Jorge Rey/AP

Your feature (How sick are the world’s healthcare systems?, g2, 30 October) demonstrated that any form of healthcare, irrespective of where in the world it is, that involves the for-profit private sectors is de facto not only more expensive but less efficient and subject to corrupt practices by drug companies, other suppliers and practitioners. You could have included Cuba in your survey as a contrast. It has a wholly public-funded and regulated healthcare system that, despite over 50 years of a US-imposed boycott, manages to treat its citizens in an equitable and efficient way, as well as despatch its medical staff to many other countries of the world where there are health problems, including to Sierra Leone to help with the Ebola crisis. Britain also once had an exemplary national healthcare system before New Labour and the Tories began privatising it piecemeal and tearing the guts out of it. Perhaps lessons to be learned?
John Green

• I note in reference to the Chinese health system: “Physicians are so underpaid that they often must supplement their salaries with kickbacks from drug companies and patient bribes.” I spoke in Beijing this year about the reform of doctors’ pay systems and heard that doctors in China often supplemented their earnings as described in the article – but there was no “must” about it. Such supplements are corrupt whether in the UK, China or anywhere else. Doctors in China are officially paid (not “underpaid”) roughly one and a half times the average earnings in Chinese society – not as generous a differential as in Europe, but doctors still earn from official sources noticeably more than the average worker. Although I did hear of a determination to increase that differential.
Bill McMillan
Assistant director, medical pay and workforce, NHS Employers

A wind farm in Cornwall ‘The ‘assault on localism’ has been coming from wind-farm developers seeking to overturn local planning refusals by councils,’ writes Kris Hopkins. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Polly Toynbee’s suggestion that the government is “overriding local planning” on onshore wind farms is misleading (Opinion, 28 October). Her attack on ministerial decisions failed to mention that these were on recovered planning appeals: cases where the elected local council had refused or not approved the original application. The “assault on localism” she infers has been coming from the wind-farm developers seeking to overturn that local refusal by the council.

All planning appeals are considered with due process and a fair hearing in light of planning policy and the local circumstances. However, there has been real public concern that inappropriately sited onshore wind turbines have been a blot on the landscape, harming the local environment and damaging heritage for miles around. Hence, in July 2013, the coalition government, with collective agreement from both Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers, openly changed national planning guidance to ensure that proper weight should be given to the protection of England’s valuable landscape and heritage, and we have sought to ensure planning appeals decisions properly reflect that guidance. For that, we make no apology and Ministers are happy to be held to account to parliament and the public.

Promoting renewable energy and protecting the global environment is a worthy cause, but we shouldn’t needlessly trash the local environment in the process.
Kris Hopkins MP
Communities minister, Department for Communities and Local Government

• In the current talk of power shortages and lack of generating capacity, domestic solar photovoltaic, which could be readily implemented and is now cost-effective, has been overlooked. Prices are now close to the projected viable level of £1 per watt. A 4Kw solar PV domestic system can be bought for under £5,000 installed and can produce 4,000kWh a year with a 20-year guaranteed life. This gives a capital cost of £1,138 per kW, with an amortised annual cost of 5.7p per kWh, with no maintenance or distribution costs. Domestic Solar PV is therefore a competitive green renewable energy, which could be installed economically and run at zero cost. If 10% of existing houses (2.8m) converted at 4kW, it would give 11.1TWh, with 11GW capacity, 12% of current UK capacity, equivalent to 3% of UK production, at an installed cost of some £12bn.

The annual value at the current domestic price of £0.15 a unit is £600pa. FIT tariff subsidies give a five-year pay-off., but realistic export prices or greater in-house utilisation would still make domestic solar PV viable and attract individual investment. I write as a pensioner user with installed PV, which even at the old prices gives an 8% return guaranteed for 25 years, better than annuities or savings – and I am looking at how to fit in more capacity.
John Read
Clitheroe, Lancashire

A Young Syrian-Kurdish woman hides a par A training session organised by the YPJ to prepare Syrian Kurdish women to defend their villages if they come under attack. Photograph: Benjamin Hiller/AFP/Getty Photograph: Benjamin Hiller/AFP/Getty Images

The real boots on the ground defending Kobani are the young women fighters of the YPJ (Kurdish Women’s Protection Units). But you only mention the peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army (Crowds line Turkish road to cheer Kobani bound troops, 30 October) About 35% of the Syrian Kurdish YPG (the People’s Protection Units of Rojava) are women. They number many thousands and the co-commander is a woman. Women snipers have killed hundreds of Isis fighters with the most minimal weaponry (ancient Russian kalashnkovs) – but they are running out of bullets. Many of these young girls are already martyrs; many have been captured and tortured, abducted into sexual slavery, killed and beheaded. It was the YPG and the YPJ rather than the peshmerga which, with the PKK, rescued the Yezidis from Mount Sinjar. It is due to the bravery and skills of these women that Kobani has not fallen. Rojava is the one place in the Middle East where there is real gender equality and the YPJ demonstrates this empowerment of women. They desperately need the heavy arms to defeat Isis. A rally is being held in Trafalgar Square on Saturday to demand support for these brave Syrian Kurds.
Margaret Owen
Patron of Peace in Kurdistan

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by Paul Cummins A sea of red ceramic poppies fill the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the fallen of the first world war. ‘Its visual impact is immense,’ writes Melanie Henwood. Photograph: Paul Brown/Rex

Jonathan Jones’s blog on the Tower of London poppies installation (28 October) claims they are “fake, trite and inward-looking – a Ukip-style memorial”. He has somehow – deliberately it seems – missed the point and has chosen to see the poppies not for the symbol of loss and devastation that they are, but as a representation of “a nationalistic tragedy”, and argues that it is this “inward-looking mood that lets Ukip thrive”. This is cheap, puerile, offensive and utterly misguided.

He was, apparently, perturbed by the popularity of the moat and the masses viewing it. On my visit a week ago I had no impression as he did of “gentle jostling and sense of fun” on the part of the crowd, but rather of people overwhelmed, awed and moved by the scale of loss laid out in the moat. Had he been there for the evening Last Post ceremony, and the daily roll call for the lost and missing, he too might have had a different experience. This is not a jingoistic celebration of the war in any sense.

Jones finds the moat too dignified and graceful as a memorial, and rages against its “fake nobility”. He mistakenly believes the horror and terror of war can only be properly commemorated by something equally shocking and vile. The moat should, he opines, be filled with barbed wire and bones. Does that apply to every other war memorial, from Whitehall to town hall and every village’s stone cross recording those who did not return? Are their poppy wreaths laid out on 11 November equally “prettified and toothless” memorials? The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation is a symbol of the massive losses of the first world war, and its visual impact is immense. It is thought-provoking and challenging and there is no inference at all of it elevating British deaths as the only ones of significance. To claim otherwise is deliberately provocative, irresponsible and crass.
Melanie Henwood
Hartwell, Northamptonshire

RNLI Successive governments considered such services so inessential that they fail to provide them, leaving such support to charities viz St John Ambulance, various mountain rescue groups and the RNLI,’ writes Neil Denby

Your correspondent (Letters, 29 October) suggests that the first aid and rescue facilities provided for the likes of football supporters and mountain goers provides the same “pull” factors as search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. It is worth noting that (successive) governments consider such services so inessential that they signally fail to provide them, leaving such support to charities viz St John Ambulance, various mountain rescue groups, the RNLI and the likes of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. Perhaps the coalition is hoping a charity will step in to replace the navy?
Dr Neil Denby
Denby Dale, West Yorkshire

• It was not only prominent academics kept under surveillance (Letters, 27 October), it was the ordinary person too. When I worked in the planning department at the London borough of Haringey in the 70s, I was approached to provide details of organisations opposed to the Archway Road proposals in north London.
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• Should we not be concerned about the outcome for Henry (Notes and queries, 30 October)? That’s what has been worrying me all along. Perhaps the writer has an ultimate outcome planned of Rob being a thoroughly good egg (a nervous breakdown might do it) so that no concern for Henry has been necessary.
Margaret Davis

• Tesco managers go on holiday to reconnect (Report, 27 October). Have they considered asking a few NHS managers for their advice about running a large organisation?
Barry Coomber
Pinner, Middlesex

• Lack of interest in DIY may not necessarily be linked to whether you rent or own your own home (Letters, 28 October). Both my sons are buying their homes. Neither of them appears to be interested in DIY. This may be related to their teenage experience of witnessing their father’s attempts at hanging wallpaper.
Peter McKinney
Brentwood, Essex


I read Yvette Cooper’s column (Another Voice, 30 October) and in the same edition a letter by Michael Forster explaining why he is drawn from a Liberal position to the extreme opposite, Ukip. Yvette Cooper is right that Nigel Farage manipulates the fears expressed by Micheal Forster on topics such as immigration and the future of the NHS. But her party is no more popular than the Conservatives, and is seen by voters as having as little relevance to real life as the present government.

If this perception is allowed to continue, I fear we are sleepwalking into a government next year where a party such as Ukip has some control over its policies. Voters have certain preconceptions about each party. These may be crude stereotypes, formulated by a biased media and encouraged by Ukip, but they exist and must be challenged. The Conservatives are seen the party of the rich; Labour has an unelectable leader; and the Lib Dems are just not trusted. The parties must acknowledge these opinions and act to alter them.

Michael Forster uses the example of immigration to demonstrate the way that politicians are seen as remote. Why are they not shouting the benefits of immigration, at the same time acknowledging the problems it causes to some communities and demonstrating a desire and ability to do something about it.

I disagree with Michael Forster that voting Ukip would lead to a government that listens. I think it would lead our country in a direction the majority of people do not want to go.

Brian Dalton

I wonder if it is a coincidence that Michael Forster – who suggests that Ukip speaks for a growing number of voters, including himself – lives in East Horsley, Surrey?

East Horsley is a village with one of the highest percentages of detached houses in the UK and one of the lowest percentages of people in “routine occupations” (source: 2011 Census). I would be interested to know how many residents of East Horsley (and the many similar villages in South-east England) have met even one of the immigrants that Mr Forster seems to fear.

Another example, perhaps, of Ukip exploiting the irrational fears of many UK voters?

Alistair Wood
Llanymynech, Powys


Whenever I read that Ukip have gained points in the opinion polls I wonder if the Ukip supporters know what the party’s policies are, other than leaving Europe and curbing immigration? Do they know Ukip policy on reducing the deficit or the NHS or education or foreign policy?

Heaven forbid if Ukip are ever in a position of forming a government. An anti-Europe, anti-immigration platform alone is not going to deliver a prosperous government.

Mustafa Haqqani
Lymm, Cheshire


While Ukip does have some legitimate concerns regarding immigration and benefits, I am extremely concerned that for political expediency it has got into bed with the far-right extremist Polish KNP party.

The KNP’s leader recently claimed that Adolf Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated”. I understand that one of the reasons Ukip has become involved with this party is that it will enable them to receive around a million pounds a year in funding.

How can any British party who wants to be taken seriously be associated in any way with such an extremist organisation? I, like many, would not vote for Ukip while they hold to this unholy alliance.

Paul Corrick


We should not confuse the relative importance of Russell Brand and Nigel Farage (Grace Dent, 28 October). One is a hilarious comedian whose political posturing makes us laugh, the other is a politician who is deadly serious and has shaken British politics to its foundations.

Stan Labovitch


A movement we can learn from

“But so far,” says Alasdair Fotheringham from Madrid (report, 30 October), “Mr Rajoy himself, though, remains relatively politically unscathed [by corruption]”. This is, arguably, only a part of the truth and perhaps not the most important.

The other part is that all Spanish politicians are in trouble: and not just from the Guardia Civil or the Policia Nacional. They have found themselves painted with the label “the Caste”, a label coined by a new political movement called Podemos, about which we should know more than we do. The Spanish people are, the evidence suggests, rejecting the Caste and turning to Podemos as the alternative.

Podemos is a left-wing reaction against that cosy political arrangement in which the established parties, including many who themselves claim to be left-wing, appear differentiated only by the colours of their leaders’ neckwear. Sound familiar?

Compare what’s happening in Spain with the lurch to the right in popular politics in Britain, France, the Netherlands and other north European countries and it is not hard to see that we have much to learn from Spanish politics, where no established politicians remain unscathed. We need our own Podemos.

Peter Bradley

We could live with 9bn vegetarians

The world population is indeed growing inexorably (report, 28 October). Would the planet be able to sustain a population of 9 billion by 2050? Yes it could, as the planet is sustaining more than 65 billion animals raised for meat consumption every year. There are at any time three times more chickens on the planet than human beings. A move away from a predominantly meat-based diet to a plant-based vegetarian and vegan diet is imperative if we are to avoid mass starvation.

Nitin Mehta

Poppies should not be company policy

I concur with P J Davison (letter, 30 October). Like Christmas and Easter, Remembrance Day is fast losing its impact because of over-exposure by the media. Of course TV presenters should wear poppies for the few days leading to Remembrance Day, but now it seems that everyone wears one for weeks before the event and they are stuck on to anything they are wearing.

The usual place is on the lapel of a jacket. Now, in overheated studios, they are worn on shirts. What is worse, they are probably provided free by the TV producers to give the impression the programme is “nice”. Remembrance should come from the heart, not from company policy.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

Why only one side at the drugs debate?

I type this while watching the drugs debate live on the parliamentary channel. The standard of speeches seems to me very high: possibly because – so far – all the speakers seem to be in favour of decriminalisation.

However, this is because none of its opponents have turned up; indeed, there are only about 20 members in the chamber. How on earth can we trust this Government when its supporters can’t be bothered – or daren’t – engage in public discussion on one of the most important issues of the day? Is this because of dishonesty, cowardice or just laziness? In whichever case, what are we paying them for?

Max Gauna

Who’s at fault for being fat?

Sara Neill (letter, 27 October) is obviously correct in her opinion that obese people are probably not responsible for their size.

That’s why you never see anyone overweight walking the streets stuffing themselves with fat-laden pasties, fish and chips, kebabs, cake and buns and all the other junk that’s available in just about every other high street shop.

And of course they aren’t responsible for starting their overweight offspring down the same path by stuffing them with sweets and crisps.

There are of course some people who have a medical condition but the biggest culprits are fast food, unhealthy diet and sheer greed.

Trevor Beaumont

Boris v Nigel would bring history to life

I was interested to read Juliet Barker’s comparison of the current state of British life to the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 (report, 27 October), and wonder if the logical conclusion would be Boris Johnson stabbing Nigel Farage in Mile End.

David Carpenter
Melbourne, Derbyshire

Being consistent about not paying

Do we all now have permission to refuse to pay tax, bills and mortgage demands when they peak? Many of the very same Conservative politicians who are saying “Can’t pay, won’t pay” to the EU will also be business owners and landlords. When wearing one of those hats my guess is they are quick off the mark threatening legal recourse in the face of obstreperous late-payers.

Quentin Deakin
Tywyn, Gwynedd

Rambler deserves justice in the raw

I hope when the naked rambler Stephen Gough is in court, he is tried by his peers and faces a nude jury.

Ian McKenzie


Sir, The threat of power cuts this winter (report, Oct 29) has brought claims of underinvestment in power generating plant. That is a convenient word to obscure the inability of various governments to face up to decisions which may be unpalatable to anti-nuclear lobbyists, pro-renewable campaigners and to those politicians who can not get a perspective on risks.

In the 1990s, a lengthy inquiry into the building of a new nuclear generating station at Hinkley Point was conducted, but the idea was eventually scrapped. More recently permission has been given for a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. But this is too late — by about ten years — to eliminate the risks of power cuts this winter. We need more enlightened government decision making than this.

Olaf Chedzoy
Bridgwater, Somerset

Sir, If the UK is likely to be subjected to power cuts at times of peak demand, fingers will be pointed in all directions. Let us be in no doubt that it is the fault of politicians (of all persuasions) whose primary responsibility is the security of its citizens, but who have ducked difficult decisions, pandered to vote-winning policies and neglected to maintain critical skills such as nuclear power production. Now they will inevitably resort to blaming others when the lights dim. Power, much like defence, is a strategic issue whose timelines stretch far beyond the next election. The country needs a strategic approach to the security of our energy supplies. As the next general election approaches, ask your MP what their policy is — then check where you’ve put the candles.

Ric Cheadle
Yelverton, Devon

Sir, It is inevitable that there will be calls for additional electricity generation capacity to be made available. It would surely be more logical to focus on what can be done immediately to reduce the demand for electricity. One of the ways this could be done would be to convert all street lights to LED lighting. People are making savings in their domestic electricity consumption by doing this; why not government too?

Cash-strapped councils do not have the capital available to convert their street lights and are left to cover the excessive running costs of using old- style lights at a time when the government demands cost reductions.

Surely the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Transport and the Department of Energy & Climate Change should work together to provide the necessary finance for making this change, with the objective of reducing electricity demand speedily and providing a quick saving to councils. The cost of implementing this suggestion is likely to be less than building a new power station.

Tim Bentley

Sir, I read of plans to deal with the shortage of generating capacity by supplying electricity at much reduced voltages. In the 1960s, while I was serving at the submarine base at Faslane, an east/west hurricane struck central Scotland and there was no domestic power supply for several days. With the best of intentions the Scottish Electricity Board restored supplies at a much- reduced voltage. This resulted in widespread burnout of series-wound electric motors which drive domestic equipment such as freezers.

When I learnt some basic electrics as part of my training as a naval marine engineer some 70 years ago I was taught that series-wound motors were known as willing horses and that the lower the voltage the harder they tried, until they burnt out. This is one reason why electricity suppliers are bound by statute to maintain voltages at a minimum level. I hope that if “brown outs” happen customers will be given sufficient warning to allow them to switch off vulnerable equipment.

Vice Admiral Sir John Lea (ret’d)
Hayling Island, Hants

Sir, We write to express our concern that the government’s Housing Standards Review could reduce the number of new homes that meet the needs of disabled and older people. Accessibly designed homes can support independence, help to prevent falls, reduce length of hospital stays and delay costly moves to residential care. A night in hospital costs the NHS about £273 while a week’s residential care averages £550. The government estimates that a three-bedroom home built to its proposed specification (based on the Lifetime Homes Standard) costs just £521 more to build than its less accessible equivalent, less than one week’s bill for residential care.

There is a wide consensus on the urgent need to ready ourselves for the health, housing and social care needs of our ageing population and there are already an estimated 11.6 million disabled people in Britain. Mainstream developments must deliver accessible, adaptable homes if we are to rise to this challenge.

The government should seize this opportunity to establish a higher minimum design requirement. Failing to do so will seriously jeopardise the supply of the kind of homes we need at the moment we need them most.

Paul Gamble, Habinteg, Caroline Abrahams, Age UK, Kate Henderson, TCPA, Liz Sayce, Disability Rights UK, Gavin Dunn, BREEAM, Clare Pelham, Leonard Cheshire Disability

Sir, So Camilla Parker Bowles’s son was threatened with a comprehensive school if he failed to study (report, Oct 28). My mother threatened me and my siblings, proud Lancastrians, with elocution lessons. By ’eck, it worked.

Barbara Elliott

Headmistress, Channing School

London N6

Sir, Lindsey Bareham’s porky pie (Dinner tonight, Oct 30) should have been called “a hogger’s pie”. As a shepherd looks after sheep, a hogger looks after pigs. At one time this was listed in the Highway Code and, in the early 1950s, my mother failed her driving test because she didn’t know what a person who led pigs was called.

Pat Rylatt

Lytham St Annes, Lancs

Sir, When visiting a clients’ farm recently, I managed to lock my “smart” keys in the back of my car (report, Oct 27). As the spare set were more than 100 miles away at home, I took the advice of the farm manager and rang my wife and asked her to press the unlock button of the spare set and hold it close to her mobile. At the farm manager’s instruction, I pointed my mobile to the unobtainable set in clear view on the rear parcel shelf of the car and, hey presto, the car locks unfastened.

It cost me a bottle of whisky in grateful thanks to the farm manager who was not only knowledgeable in matters relating to farming but also in the mysteries of wireless technology.

T Matthew Horton

Bromsgrove, Worcs

Sir, The argument that charities have to pay large salaries in order to attract the right quality of staff (report, Oct 28 & letters, Oct 30) is undermined by one example; Médecins sans Frontières (UK) (MSF). No one could question the effectiveness and efficiency of this charity. It is invariably first on the ground in any crisis and is able to call on a large group of qualified volunteers. Despite this, MSF’s constitution prohibits it paying any employee more than three times the lowest-paid employee, which currently means that no one earns over £80,000.

Peter Rivière

Charlbury, Oxon


Could Stonehenge be a caveman’s idea of a practical joke? Photo: © Steve Vidler / Alamy

6:55AM GMT 30 Oct 2014


SIR – You speculate that Stonehenge may be an ancient practical joke.

The late Spike Milligan once stated that, in order to confuse archaeologists of the future, he wanted to be laid to rest in a washing machine.

George Brown

All that glisters

SIR – The news that Cadbury is to stop producing chocolate coins reminds me of an April Fools trick I once played on my wife.

Prior to her morning shop I placed five foil-wrapped “£1” chocolate coins in her purse. On her return the expected outrage never materialised, and I soon discovered that the chocolate currency had been successfully used to pay for her goods in a Boots store.

Feeling the trick had gone too far I confessed, and my wife dispatched me to explain my deception and offer recompense, rather sheepishly, to the bemused shop manager.

A J Gayne
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Feline alarm clock

SIR – I wish someone could tell me how to let my cat Oswald know that the clocks have gone back an hour.

The wake-up paw arrives promptly at 6.30 every morning to demand that I sort out his breakfast requirements.

Mick Philp

Pick up a tune

SIR – Apropos your correspondent whistling a Chopin waltz which was recognised by Polish workmen (Letters, October 29), I have been humming the opening bar of the famous quartet from Beethoven’s Fidelio for most of my life, in the hope that one day someone would chime in with the following bar.

So far, no luck.

Elizabeth Muir-Lewis
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Fuel for thought

SIR – A friend of mine buys The Daily Telegraph every Saturday: not just for the excellent news coverage and other content, but because “there’s enough paper to start the fire with in the morning for a week”.

Waste not, want not.

Malcolm Parkin
Kinnesswood, Kinross-shire

The president’s approval rating is averaging around 40 percent in this quarter Photo: GETTY IMAGES

6:57AM GMT 30 Oct 2014


SIR – Tim Stanley’s article makes President Obama look worse than he is.

The presidency is not a popularity contest. There may be much of importance that the president enacts which the general population doesn’t like, but which is nonetheless good for the country. Reform of the health care system, for example, has exceeded expectations. More of the uninsured are now covered than even the most ardent proponents predicted, and at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

It is not the president who controls the US economy, but the business cycle, and tax and spending policies are set by Congress and state governments. Most economists agree that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 was one of Obama’s biggest achievements and has had a largely positive effect, promoting growth and insulating America from an even deeper and longer recession.

While I would like to see the widening disparity of income in America reversed, there is little chance that government policy can influence it, particularly with the Republican dominance in the House of Representatives and a possible Senate majority in the offing, too.

Obama’s leadership has appeared weak – notwithstanding his decisive elimination of Osama bin Laden and clear messages to Gaddafi, Mubarak and Assad – but this is largely a failure of PR, not of policy.

You certainly cannot measure presidential success by time spent playing golf, as Mr Stanley implies. Woodrow Wilson played 1,200 rounds compared with Obama’s 124.

Simon Foster
Cincinnati, Ohio

This week the wreck of the U-576 was found off the coast of North Carolina

Scuba Diver on the wreck of the U 352, a German submarine sunk by the US Coast Guard during World War II

Davy Jones’s locker: the wreck of the German U-352, sunk by the US Coast Guard in 1942  Photo: Alamy

6:57AM GMT 30 Oct 2014


SIR – David Millward reports on the discovery of the U-576 wreck (“The ghost of U–576 shows how Nazis took the war to America”).

About 52 wrecks are predicted to be within 40 miles of North Carolina. Between January 12 and July 31 1942, 670 merchant ships were sunk, many off the east coast of America between New York and Savannah. During the same period, 50 U-boats were sunk, several in the same area.

In 1944 or 1945, King George VI asked the Anti-U-boat Division of the Admiralty for information on the course of the U-boat war. My great-uncle, Edgar Perman, an Admiralty cartographer, produced a detailed book of world charts indicating the positions of sunken merchant ships and U-boats. These show the movement of the struggle from the south-western approaches to Britain, intensifying off the north-west coast of Scotland, to the mid-Atlantic and on to America’s Eastern Seaboard.

The original book is held by the Royal Collection in Windsor Castle.

D L Denny
Windsor, Berkshire

Drug trials and the ethics of paying to be a guinea pig

Should rich people should be asked to fund research into life-threatening illnesses?

A pill bottle with a pile of spilled red pills against a white background

Kate Law, of Cancer Research UK, said: “In the United Kingdom, the principles in participating in clinical trials include open and equal access for those who choose to participate” Photo: Alamy

6:58AM GMT 30 Oct 2014


SIR – Alexander Masters suggests that where funds are not available for clinical trials of treatments for life-threatening illnesses, rich people should be asked to fund the research – and therefore the treatment of several other people – in return for a place on the trial for themselves or someone they designate.

There are, of course, a number of ethical, legal and practical considerations to be addressed. Kate Law, of Cancer Research UK, condemns the proposal: “In the United Kingdom, the principles in participating in clinical trials include open and equal access for those who choose to participate – and they are free to patients.”

These ethics are political ideology, which may be fine when applied to government-financed clinical trials, but should not be used to block other methods of funding which could save lives.

William Ellam
Crawley, West Sussex

Politics and principles

SIR – Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, stated that she voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage because her constituents opposed the legislation. She has now, in her role as minister for women and equalities, reversed her position.

Whatever one thinks of the actual issue, this change of stance indicates the weakness of today’s political classes: there is no leadership, just an ability to see which way a particular debate is going and run to the front of the crowd.

It reminds one of the “leadership” of Neil Kinnock, which was rejected in 1987 by the electorate in favour of the conviction-based approach of Margaret Thatcher.

Sadly, today’s front benches do not seem to present voters with individuals as robust as Mrs Thatcher: or, on the other side of the house, the equally principled Tony Benn.

Andrew C Pierce
Barnstaple, Devon

David Henson, one of the competitors in the Invictus Games, who lost his legs in Afghanistan in 2011 Photo: REX

6:59AM GMT 30 Oct 2014


SIR – Over the past few days, the final withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan has prompted all of us to turn our thoughts to the 453 service personnel who died during the conflict. The thoughts of the nursing profession are also with the thousands who have been wounded.

Nurses in Afghanistan and Britain have treated and helped to rehabilitate many service personnel who have endured multiple amputations, facial disfigurement, blindness, brain injuries, psychological trauma and other complex injuries.

Thanks to the care received in the first period following an injury, wounded soldiers in their early twenties may live well into later life.

Political leaders have spoken of never forgetting those who lost their lives. We now need the commitment of all politicians and parties to maintain support for the injured, many of whose conditions will require yet more care as they age.

This task is too important and too enduring to be left exclusively to charity.

Dr Peter Carter
Chief Executive, Royal College of Nursing
London W1

Mark of respect

SIR – Is there a correct date on which to start wearing a poppy?

It seems to get earlier every year.

Major John Cann
Devizes, Wiltshire

Logic dictates that the original agreement on contributions to the eurozone must be revisited

Cracking EU flag - concept representing euro default / debt / break up of the European Union / Europe crisis concept

Britain and other countries should not be adversely affected by their separation from the eurozone and their own growth under different policies Photo: Alamy

7:00AM GMT 30 Oct 2014


SIR – Further to your leading article and Philip Johnston’s comment piece on the topic of EU contributions, there is a legal argument to be put forward by Britain.

The basis for contributions was set before the creation of the eurozone, which then introduced serious and specific rules for its members. This has led to policies and actions which have restricted growth among eurozone members. One could argue that this has distorted contributions to the European Union as a whole under the original calculation rules.

Britain and other countries should not be adversely affected by their separation from the eurozone and their own growth under different policies. Legal doctrines and logic dictate that the original agreement regarding contributions must be revisited.

Edward Album
London NW11

SIR – You report that David Cameron “won’t pay £1.7 billion bill”, but he only refused to pay by December 1.

When Mr Cameron said he would stand against bailing out eurozone countries, we subsequently pumped millions of pounds into the IMF, which bailed out Ireland.

We were also told that Mr Cameron had ordered that the EU budget be capped, but how can we ever be sure if budget demands are met when their accounts haven’t been signed off by the European Court of Auditors for the past 18 years?

It is time to get out of the EU.

John Alford
Farnborough, Hampshire

SIR – I wonder if HMRC will be understanding if I choose to follow the Prime Minister’s example and refuse to pay my next VAT bill.

Though I won’t include calculations for prostitution or drug dealing in my return.

Michael Powell
Tealby, Lincolnshire

SIR – The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has threatened us with a fine if we refuse to pay the £1.75 billion bill.

If we refuse to pay the fine, too, what will he do – send in the bailiffs?

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – In an interview on the BBC Today programme yesterday morning, Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy First Minister of Scotland, suggested that in the event of a majority of the population of the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union, any of the four constituent countries should have the right of veto.

During the recent Scottish independence referendum, I do not remember the SNP offering the right of veto to other parts of the UK, should the Scots have voted for independence, even though we would have been significantly affected by a break-up of the Union. We were not even given the chance to express our views.

Dr P D Hills
Frodsham, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – To develop the headline on Kathy Sheridan’s opinion piece (“Ebola: how faith, hope and science play their part”, October 29th) regarding the treatment of Ebola – faith, hope, and science play their part, but the greatest of these is science. If Texan nurse Nina Pham had been asked to choose as treatment either prayer or having the antibody treatment that she received, which might she have chosen? Our actions are in line with the Dawkins view, however much some protest. We choose to have our children vaccinated rather than relying on faith and hope, for example.

Is it fair to say that we trust the science but we include prayer on the basis that it can’t do any harm and it might help, and then we give it lots of credit when we recover? Perhaps that’s what annoys Prof Dawkins. Instead of further futile pro- and anti-Dawkins articles, I suggest that you devote some space to a deep analysis by leading psychologists and/or philosophers, and not excluding scientists, of the origins of the religious impulse in humans.

It would be good to read opinions on whether this impulse, which seeks for a benign power that looks after us, is a leftover from infancy when simple survival depends on having such a benign power to hand, or if it is based on the development of rational thought in later life, or a bit of both, or maybe neither. – Yours, etc,


Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

A chara, – I must congratulate Kathy Sheridan on leaping to the defence of the downtrodden theists in the US. If only more Americans and their political leaders took up Ms Sheridan’s battle cry and professed their faith or mentioned God when they spoke publicly, then perhaps the theists in that country could free themselves from the oppression of the atheist mainstream. – Is mise,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – It is possible to acknowledge and admire the courage and generosity of Nina Pham who risked her life to help Ebola victims and at the same time marvel at her ability to thank God for her recovery without her seeming to be taking into account the divine involvement in the creation of the problem in the first place. Kathy Sheridan trivialises the faith/reason dichotomy with her notion of “coolness” as being behind the increase in open atheism so apparent today.

Prof Dawkins seems to strike some as arrogant but I, for one, have never known him ask for anything but evidence. He has stated that he will be convinced by scientific evidence whether that evidence confirms or contradicts previously held opinion. This is not an attitude I would have thought comparable to Redemptorist preachers. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – As a member of the European Union, our Government has already agreed that by 2050 we will reduce our emissions by at least 80 per cent from 1990 levels. Agriculture accounts for some 30 per cent of our total emissions and transport accounts for another 20 per cent.

In one sector the Government seems determined that no real reductions will take place; in the other, the only plan it has is to hope that clean electricity will replace oil in the running of our trains and cars.

In such circumstances it is clear that the building of a zero-carbon electricity power system is the essential first step in meeting our existing commitments. The European energy roadmap for 2050 makes such an assumption explicit. The 2030 agreement signed in Brussels last week once again confirmed that this is the road we are set on. There is a consensus on this. It has been agreed for almost a decade. The only problem is that it is signed off at European Council meetings and never discussed anywhere else. The political parties in the Dáil don’t think decades ahead. They seem to believe you can sign up for action on climate change, without actually having to do anything about it.

Like Colm McCarthy (October 29th) I would support a global carbon tax to promote the necessary technological solutions in a non-prescriptive way. But the chances of international agreement on such a measure are next to nil and the absence of such a perfect economic instrument should not see us holding off on the strategic decisions we need to make today.

The best analysis shows that delaying making the necessary investments will only make the transition more expensive in the end. There are no easy options available. Nuclear would cost twice the price. The technology to burn fossil fuels and bury the resulting carbon is not yet available. Running Moneypoint on a wood-fired boiler makes no sense. It is only the combination of energy efficiency, community-owned renewable power supplies and international electricity interconnection that provides for me a credible path ahead.

I think the transition would lead to a more stable and equitable economy and society. Doing nothing is not an option. – Yours, etc,


The Green party,

Suffolk Street, Dublin 2.

A chara, – Christie Colhoun (October 29th) laments that “the wonderful view of Mount Errigal, Dunlewey and the Poison Glen in Co Donegal being ruined by a massive wind turbine had me choking on my breakfast cereal”. Equally, it could be claimed that the view is enhanced by the presence of the turbine in the same way that O’Connell Street is enhanced by the presence of the Spire or the Champs de Mars by the Eiffel Tower. Might the banks of the Nile look more splendorous if there were no pyramids defacing the landscape?

It could equally be argued that the invention of the internal combustion engine has brought untold misery, death and serious pollution of the air that we breathe, but not many of us will easily forego the perceived advantages of personal motorised transport. – Is mise,


Shannon, Co Clare.

Sir, – It would take an awful lot more wind farms to make any significant impact on our energy-related carbon emissions as wind currently provides only 2.6 per cent of our primary energy requirements. Maybe wind is not the answer.

At the risk of being heretical, could there be a better option evident in France where 80 per cent of electricity is nuclear, where per capita carbon emissions are about half those of Ireland (and Germany for that matter) and where domestic electricity is more than a third cheaper than in Ireland? – Yours, etc,


Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Regarding prostitution laws, Fionola Meredith (“Why new law banning the purchase of sex is patronising and problematic”, Opinion & Analysis, October 29th) writes that “the real concern of abolitionist campaigners” is to “seek the satisfaction of a symbolic victory: the ability to declare our shores closed to prostitution, in exactly the same way that anti-abortion activists like to proclaim Ireland free of abortion”. She omits homosexuality. Back in the mid-1980s when homosexual acts were still criminal offences in this State, European courts heard cases about the validity of this law. The State argued that although the law was indeed on the statute books, it was never actually enforced. The point of the law was that the State aspired to be free of homosexual acts. I remember this because Dick Walsh discussed it in the very same place in this newspaper as Ms Meredith’s article 30 years later. So they’re bringing back “aspirational laws”. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – There is no justification for fare increases at a time when our public transport network is offering a very poor service to its customers.

We have a railway service which is at best infrequent, overcrowded and filthy; the state of some of the carriages leaves a lot to be desired; and as for the toilets, these are rarely clean, and in most cases are out of order.

The commuter services outside of the Dart corridor and the Cork suburban service do not meet the needs of the traveller, and do not offer services in a lot of cases after 6.30pm.

The Bus Éireann network is, on the other hand, more reliable, but is expensive, and does not really offer a cost-effective alternative to using the car.

There is a strong case for privatisation on a number of routes, and the competition might serve to improve timetables and service, and ultimately give the customer a better choice of options. – Yours, etc,


Wicklow Town.

A chara, – The comprehension gap between official Ireland and majority of the population is truly staggering.

Government Ministers repeatedly state that people are not, for example, getting the message on water charges and that Irish Water needs to clean up its PR act.

The people do, manifestly, get the message and are sickened by it. The majority are struggling to live out their lives following six years of unrelenting cutbacks and freezes in incomes and services.

The comprehension gap is further illuminated by the decision, far away from the budget drama, to increase public transport fares by, as Conor Pope noted, 10 times the rate of inflation (“Bus and rail passengers hit in the pocket”, October 29th).

This is on top of a 48 per increase in Dublin Bus fares since 2011. These phenomenal increases in the context of one of the lowest publicly funded transport services in Europe do not apparently even register with Government or the senior public servants in quangos who make these decisions.

The users of public transport are in the main not Government or senior public servants but the working population and their children. Given all of this and so much more, the fact that the Government is apparently shocked at the response to water charges truly reveals a tale of two countries.

Citizens know from past experience with other services and by the reality of water charges in England that the only way these levies will go is upwards and the much-vaunted easements announced in the budget will go the same way as waste charge waivers, into the dustbin of history. – Is mise,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Recent correspondents, intent on having philosophy taught in our schools, should take note of the practice in Germany. There second-level students who have no wish to be instructed in religion are obliged to study philosophy in its stead in school. It is worth considering in an Irish context, for it would neatly give proper effect to a scarcely mentioned provision, embedded in Article 44.2.4 of our Constitution. This entitles any child attending any school in receipt of public money not to attend religious instruction at that school, and in a way which does not affect the child prejudicially. In other words, having him withdraw to the hall, corridor, etc, or making a pariah of him, consciously or unconsciously. Leaving a pupil twiddling his thumbs while religious instruction goes on all around him does not meet this constitutional imperative. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Can John Dillon (October 29th) substantiate the truth of his claim that the Catholic Church is opposed to the teaching of philosophy in schools or is it his mere opinion? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 24.

Sir, – I have recently found the reading of one particular philosopher a new enlightenment to me. I am not talking about his political thoughts, but his philosophical views. His name is Karl Marx. Why is Ireland the only country in Europe that does not do critical thinking in its schools? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 22.

Sir, – I would like to commend the efforts of the Platonic Centre in Trinity College Dublin as outlined by director emeritus John Dillon and all those working to enrich the education of our young people by the expansion of philosophy within the school curriculum. It should be pointed out, however, that it would be an expansion rather than an addition.

The works of the Greek philosopher Plato can already be studied as part of Classical Studies for both the Junior and Leaving Certificate.

Philosophy represents just one element of a subject that seeks to broaden the minds and develop the critical thinking skills of its students. – Yours, etc,



Classical Association

of Ireland – Teachers,

Mount Merrion,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Gerry Adams (October 30th) certainly could give embattled bishops valuable lessons in chutzpah. Faced with Fintan O’Toole’s unanswerable requisitory, how does Mr Adams respond? “I see from his column that Fintan O’Toole is now an expert on me. This on top of his other accomplishments.” This sounds exactly like the one-liners of Archbishop John C McQuaid. For instance, Archbishop McQuaid said of journalists covering Vatican II: “I am dismayed by the facile ignorance of the journalists who are writing about the documents that have cost us years of work, and by the more facile dictation in regard to what we bishops must now do”.

Of course it suits Mr Adams very well to come across as a shifty and arrogant media-bashing bishop, since this confirms his establishment status, and throws the memory of IRA crimes still further into the shade. – Yours, etc,


Sophia University,



A chara, – I note that US multinationals plan to “advise” the the Minister for Enterprise and Innovation on “what should be in the proposed ‘knowledge box’ scheme” (“Multinationals to advise on tax scheme”, October 29th). As my employer pays me in part for the hours worked, but mainly for the intellectual property I bring to bear during those hours, I welcome this approach.

I would be more than happy to advise the Minister on what proportion of my salary should be taxed as income, at normal rates, and what proportion should be taxed as my “income from intellectual property”, at a reduced rate, say 6.5 per cent.

Kindly inform the Minister I am ready to open negotiations at his earliest convenience. – Is mise,


Dundrum, Dublin 16.

Sir, – I hope that the organisers of the anti-water charge marches tomorrow will keep an eye out for any rogue elements in their crowd. They should be easy to spot as they will be the ones carrying bottles of Ballygowan, Evian, River Rock, etc. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – The controversy over Irish Water demanding PPS numbers would seem very strange to people living in Spain, where everyone pays for water and an individual’s personal ID number is used as the unique identifier for both each account and the person paying the bill. This causes not the slightest problem, as people are very accustomed to using their ID numbers (or passport numbers) for all manner of transactions and certainly anything to do with the State or utility companies.

It seems to me that the main complaint that one can have with Irish Water’s proposal is the risk that if the company is sold in the future, the PPS numbers could be used for some nefarious reason.

The simple solutions to that problem are to offer customers a choice between PPS or passport number as their identifier and to have a set of rock-solid data protection guarantees with severe punishments – particularly colossal fines – for any company that would breach those guarantees. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – I concur with Kevin Nolan (October 29th) about marathons taking over the city on bank holidays.

On Monday last I went out for my morning cycle only to be impeded by barricades and diversions put in place to facilitate the marathon mayhem.

Please let me enjoy my city. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – Kevin Nolan has a problem with Dublin marathons. Surely he must be among a very small minority. The two Dublin marathons are major events in our country. If he were to take part (albeit even as a spectator) he might get a feel for the atmosphere and understand the sense of goodwill generated by those taking part.

The sums raised for various charities through these events are amazing.

As a participant in the June bank holiday mini-marathon for the past 10 years, I can honestly say it is one of the highlights of the year.

Perhaps Mr Nolan could take his own advice and take to the Phoenix Park or the Dublin mountains on the two marathon Mondays! – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

A chara, – What Ireland needs is another bank holiday where Kevin Nolan can enjoy the city and marathon runners can stay in bed. – Is mise,


Dublin 24.

Irish Independent:

With the publication of Professor Geoff Raisman’s spectacular achievement in repairing the damaged spinal cord of a Polish knife attack victim, (Darek Fidyka) as reported by the Irish Independent (October 22), we are witnessing a paradigm shift of biblical proportions in the field of spinal cord repair – for the first time, stem cell therapy has exceeded expectations. Humanity is on the verge of great advances in the understanding and repair of neurological disasters.

This week marks a significant milestone in our journey from the first bone marrow (stem cell) transplant to treat Leukaemia in 1956 (earning the Nobel Prize for Dr Donnall Thomas and JE Murray in 1990) to Professor Raisman’s publication in 1969 on the ‘Plasticity of Nerve Cells’.

In just 10 years, the possibility of neural regeneration has revolutionised our understanding of neural physiology and repair.

It all began when the canary (long used to warn coal miners of dangerous gasses in the mines) was found to grow 500,000 new neural cells in the process of learning a new song each spring (it’s amazing what is done for love!).

A few years later, an inspired researcher did MRI brain studies on London taxi drivers learning maps of London (known as ‘The Knowledge’). A repeat MRI nine months later showed the hippocampus had grown in size by 14pc.

Another study found that when rats learned to navigate a new maze, after only five trials they developed more than 20,000 new brain cells. The control group of rats that just ran around a ring for the same time showed no increase in brain cells.

So the brain can and does grow when stimulated.

Professor Raisman’s research was the subject of an excellent cover story in the ‘Sunday Times’ supplement circa 2007.

I am personally pleased that I used his research findings and hypotheses in my presentations to the European Anti-ageing Conference on ‘The Potential of Stem Cell Therapy’ in Athens, in 2007, and in Paris the following year. In summary, the stem cell promise has been vindicated. For a full account of Professor Raisman’s discovery, go to my website

Dr John B Dunphy

Carrigaline, Co Cork

Time to pay up for our water

I am disappointed but not surprised at the strength of the anti-water charges protests. It is like how a neighbour might protest after you ended a 30-year tradition of giving him Christmas presents. He is not thankful for the 30 years when you gave him a gift.

Since the abolition of domestic rates in 1977, a majority of Irish people have received free water and sewage services paid for out of general taxation – apart from a brief period in the 1990s, when some local authorities attempted to impose water charges. Instead of being thankful for the 37 years of free water, many now consider it an entitlement.

I understand both professionally and personally that safe water is both costly and valuable. I have a private well that is one of the 20pc of wells in the country contaminated with faecal coliforms.

In 2009, after a wet autumn, my water was contaminated with E Coli O157. My daughter lost renal function for over three weeks and nearly died. Today, she still has some medical problems as a result. I immediately spent €1,500 installing a treatment system for my water.

Money is needed to improve the water services. In addition to this, many private water and sewage systems need to be improved. However, it is difficult politically for the Government to force the minority with private systems to pay to improve their water and sewage when a majority are getting both for free.

There is no doubt that the Government has meddled and made a ‘horlicks’ out of the situation – establishing Irish Water, abolishing the standing charge. It should have just added €200 to the property tax for people as an interim measure until meters were installed and Irish Water properly established. I doubt if protesters would be as quick to burn letters from the Revenue as they are letters from Irish Water.

Hopefully, the Government will stay the course and not back down.

Ulick Stafford

Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Tide has turned on Kenny

Ironically this Government – and Enda Kenny in particular – is beginning to resemble not so much a party in disarray but as a king in distress. That king is King Canute. Sat on his coastline with his hand up trying to command the sea. But the angry tide has turned against Fine Gael and the futility of concessions being bandied about will not be enough to hold the waves back.

From the moment this Government guillotined the water bill in the Dail the process has been dogged by criticism and angry response. Worse still, having thought they got away with the mugging of that process, the establishment of Irish Water has picked up on that legacy and has displayed utter contempt for its customer base.

This is evidenced by the ludicrous measure just introduced, whereby all those on the household package will each receive €100 towards their bill. That is 650,000 people costing €65m! And yet the people are not standing for it. They want to know why – and it has never been explained properly to them – they are paying for water twice. They want to know why a proper procedure of tendering never went out for setting up Irish Water. They want to know why millions were squandered on “advisers”. They want to know why personal household allowances are so low. They want to know why, in several cases around the country, they are being asked to pay for a product that is not fit for purpose. They want to know why, if they cannot pay, their rights to water will be “cut to a trickle”. They want to know why company benefits are so generous. They want to know why PPS numbers are required.

And they want to know why this Government has failed to enshrine into law the idea that this company will not be flogged off into the private sector and make a certain fat cat fatter. This is our utility. This is our land. This is our water.

George Wakefield

Co Cork

O’Donnell in RSA driving seat

Should former PD Liz O’Donnell be appointed chairman of the Road Safety Authority? After all, was she not one of the drivers in charge of the ‘Celtic Tiger Express’ when it careered out of control some time ago and crashed headlong into our economy.

Sean Kelly

Tramore, Co Waterford

More pain for commuters

I read with interest your article on bus and rail fare rises (Irish Independent, October 29). It opens with the NTA saying an increase was needed due to falling passenger numbers.

However, it then closes by saying passenger numbers have increased by 4pc so far this year.

This is a complete contradiction and just shows the waffle these semi-state companies expect us to swallow. I think we can simply conclude the fare rise is another money grab.

I do, however, welcome the lower fare on a second trip.

This initiative is long overdue as reduced/free second trip fares is the norm in cities all over the world.

Brendan Guckian

Co Leitrim

Irish Independent



October 30, 2014

30 October 2014 Servas

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day off to the postoffice and the Co op. The ‘Servas’ visitor finally answers the phone and I cancel his visit.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Michael Sata was a former British Rail train driver who became president of Zambia on his fourth attempt, aged 74

Michael Sata gesturing upon his arrival at the Solwezi airport before an election campaign meeting in 2014

Michael Sata gesturing upon his arrival at the Solwezi airport before an election campaign meeting in 2014 Photo: AFP

6:09PM GMT 29 Oct 2014


Michael Sata, who has died aged 77, was a populist president of Zambia who denounced China’s role in Africa and promised to stop his country from being a “dumping ground for their human beings”.

Prickly, irascible, intolerant and notably inept at the business of administration, Sata had to wait until he was 74 before winning the presidency on his fourth attempt. Yet for all his faults, he became the insistent voice of millions of Zambians who bitterly resented the impact of Chinese investment on their country.

As a mineral-rich nation laden with copper, Zambia was an early target of China’s sweep into Africa. By the early 21st century, Chinese companies were operating mines and running supermarkets in the capital, Lusaka.

While Beijing called this a “win-win” partnership, ordinary Zambians could not help noticing that one side tended to win much more than the other. The minerals that China extracted were vastly more valuable than the infrastructure it built in return; Chinese factories put local competitors out of business; and a series of accidents claimed scores of lives in Chinese-run mines.

During the 2006 election, Sata, by then leader of the Patriotic Front party, sought to mobilise this anger behind his bid for the presidency. “We want to work with the Chinese, but they must change,” he said as the votes were being counted. “Their labour relations are very bad. They are not adding any value to what they claim is investment. Instead of creating jobs for the local workforce, they bring in Chinese workers to cut wood and carry water. We don’t want Zambia to be a dumping ground for their human beings.”

When Sata was defeated, his supporters mounted the first anti-China riot in Africa, rampaging through Lusaka and looting Chinese-owned shops and businesses. While Sata gained only 28 per cent of the total vote, he won majorities in the areas most affected by Chinese investment. In Lusaka, he polled almost three times as many votes as Levy Mwanwasa, who was re-elected president.

In opposition, Sata warmed to his theme, saying in 2007: “We want the Chinese to leave and the old colonial rulers to return. They exploited our natural resources too, but at least they took good care of us. They built schools, taught us their language and brought us the British civilisation. At least Western capitalism has a human face; the Chinese are only out to exploit us.”

Michael Sata campaigning in 2006 (AFP)

When he finally won the presidency in 2011, however, Sata did not act on his words. By that time, China’s stake in Zambia was such a vital component of the economy that only a supreme effort of political resolve could have reduced Beijing’s influence. Sata, elderly and increasingly infirm, was simply not up to the task.

Having been the first senior African politician to challenge China, he became a compliant partner for Beijing once he was in power.

Michael Chilufya Sata was born on July 6 1937 in the Mpika area of what was then the British Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia. He attended a mission school and briefly trained for the Catholic priesthood – until he was expelled from Lubushi Seminary for bullying and fighting.

He then served in the colonial police force for two years before going to jail for incitement to violence. Sata was locked up for giving an inflammatory address in a miners’ beer hall in the Copperbelt region. Whether he was delivering a passionate condemnation of colonial rule – as he later claimed – or whether his liquid diatribe was actually on more prosaic matters remains unclear. But Sata served six months of a two-year sentence. On his release, he moved to Britain in 1959 and worked variously in a laundry in Bromley, a car factory in Luton and at Victoria station. Sata enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of British Rail, being promoted from cleaner to porter to conductor and, finally, train driver.

He returned to his homeland shortly before it achieved independence as the new nation of Zambia in 1964 and began his political career as a follower of Kenneth Kaunda, the country’s first president.

Sata made his mark as an energetic governor of Lusaka from 1985 onwards. But he fell out with Kaunda – who would later dismiss his subordinate as “not presidential material” – and joined a new opposition party, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD).

After the MMD unseated Kaunda in 1991, Sata held a series of ministerial posts, including at the departments of labour, local government and health.

But he was disgusted when his new party failed to choose him as its presidential candidate in 2001. Sata was appalled to see this accolade go to Levy Mwanawasa, a dull and reliable man popularly known as “the cabbage”.

Sata walked out of the MMD and formed his own party, the Patriotic Front. After losing three elections, he defeated Rupiah Banda and finally became president in 2011.

Yet, sick and exhausted, Sata was only sporadically in charge of Zambia’s government. He would disappear for months at a time, surfacing only to make erratic announcements.

When students at the University of Zambia dared to protest against the removal of subsidies on maize and fuel in 2013, Sata flew into a rage and ordered the immediate expulsion of all those involved in the demonstrations. Police stormed the university campus, drenched the halls of residence with tear gas and arrested 23 students. Only the intervention of foreign ambassadors led Sata to back down from this outburst.

As his health worsened, the day-to-day governance of Zambia was effectively left in the hands of Guy Scott, a Cambridge-educated economist who served as vice-president.

Last month, with rumours swirling about his condition, Sata stood before Zambia’s parliament and proudly declared: “I am not dead!”

He promptly disappeared again, missing the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of independence, before the government yesterday told Zambians that their president had died in a London hospital on Tuesday.

Michael Sata married first, Margaret Manda, and secondly, Christine Kaseba. He had at least 10 children.

Michael Sata, born July 6 1937, died October 28 2014


British military personnel depart Camp Bastion British military personnel at Kandahar airfield, preparing to leave Afghanistan for the final time. Photograph: EPA

As an anti-war activist, I see no reason to celebrate the British troops’ withdrawal from Helmand province, although this has happily brought to “an end a costly chapter in the 13-year campaign, with the vast majority of the 453 troops who died in the conflict losing their lives fighting the Taliban insurgency in Helmand” (Report, 27 October). Private security firms, arms dealers, people smugglers, cheque-book journalists and other merchants of war must be bitterly regretting the end of what has been a very lucrative business enterprise.

Of course they would have long anticipated this change and made concrete arrangements to relocate their bloody operations to Libya, Syria, Iraq, northern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, where they are hoping that the longer the conflicts last, and the more civilians, especially women, children and other vulnerable people lose their lives, the higher the profit margin will be. It is this business aspect of war which is making it very difficult to achieve lasting world peace and security – which is vital for ending poverty.
Sam Akaki

• It was not the lack of a strategy by the US and the UK in Afghanistan that was wrong; it was the whole benighted exercise (No victory parade for the fourth Afghan war, Journal, 28 October). The illegal “intervention” in Iraq was not a “strategic blunder”, but quite simply a war crime, in line with the Nuremberg ruling that waging aggressive war is the primary crime within which are subsumed all others. The attack on 9/11 was a crime, not an act of war, as was conceded by Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, in her Reith lecture. It could and should have been responded to using the mechanisms of international law, imperfect though they are.

Had diplomacy and international law been used in 2001, instead of the mightiest military power in history attacking one of the world’s poorest countries in the name of the “war on terror”, many thousands of lives would have been saved. And the world would be much safer today.

Of course, saying this does not help those thousands of casualties – they are still just as dead – but a general recognition of this fundamental point is essential to the quest for a long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Frank Jackson
Harlow, Essex

Your editorial (28 October) is right to say that the British army needs to examine serious questions like what it is for, how and when it can be useful. These questions are unlikely to be answered by the present government, though, when the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, foolishly makes claims such as that “we have the best armed forces in the world and I am going to keep them that way”. Indeed, the problem is much wider, since major parts of the main political parties have still not managed to come to terms with the fact that Britain is no longer a world power. Vainglorious boasting like Fallon’s not only does nothing to help, but actually impedes the process of recognising where we really do stand in the world.
Dr Richard Carter

• Now our forces are returning from Afghanistan, is it not time for a full assessment of what roles are likely to be appropriate for our armed forces in the future? While you draw attention to the need for assessing the future role and requirements of the army, surely there is need for a more far-reaching consideration. In particular, what purpose, if any, will be served by the very expensive replacement of Trident and the commissioning of the new aircraft carriers. Here is surely an opportunity for the Labour party to show initiative and relevant concern for Britain’s future.
John Chubb
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

• In all the reports about Afghanistan, the total number of British war dead in this conflict (453) has been repeatedly stressed. But nowhere have I seen any mention of the number of Afghans, both combatant and non-combatant, who have been killed, either accidentally or deliberately, by the British troops there. Surely, we should also be given this figure to help us make a more balanced assessment of the role the British have played there over the past 13 years?
Mike Garnier

• Hugh Hetherington (Letters, 25 October) cites Syria as an example of unsuccessful “non-intervention”. He is mistaken. A long list of countries has provided military aid to the rebels, including Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, the US, Turkey and Qatar – and have resolutely held the rebel forces to a position of non-negotiation with the Assad regime. Possibly a majority of Syrian rebels are not Syrian; and the fact that the rebels are dominated by hardline Islamists is a direct consequence of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Syria is another disastrous casualty of “intervention”.
Peter McKenna

Wilshaw Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted. ‘Ofsted is not going to go away – there is no political will for that; no political capital to be gained from it,’ writes Professor Colin Richards. Photograph: Antonio Olmos

Your vox pop of senior education figures (The verdict on Ofsted? ‘requires improvement’, Education, 28 October) was damning. It is clear that all trust has been lost; Ofsted is regarded as a highly politicised, untrustworthy, damaging organisation. That’s one reason why the Green party is calling for its abolition and replacement with continuous collaborative assessment and a national council of educational excellence working closely with local authorities.

Of course we need more change than that. The state of Ofsted is a reflection of the state of a system that is vastly overfocused on exams, has lost local democratic accountability, and has left teachers overworked, disempowered and increasingly demoralised.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party

• The views of 16 educationalists on Ofsted and its inspection of schools leads me to wonder, what is Ofsted for? Is this intimidating body with its constantly changing goalposts the best way of spending £70m on improving education? My answer is that, after 22 years’ meandering, it should be abolished. In its place is needed a revitalised, small, well-trained HM inspectorate looking at national issues and local inspectors/advisers giving challenge and support to schools in a locality that they are familiar with. Yes, returning to the school support system of pre-1988 that was demolished for political reasons and not on the basis of research evidence.

If, as I suspect, this would liberate substantial funds, they could be spent to great value on Sure Start centres, linking them to primary schools to give parental support in helping the language development of those very young children who sadly are growing up in culturally impoverished families. This would be a much more effective strategy for raising educational standards than Ofsted inspections because it would focus on those all important first two years of life and parent-child verbal interaction. With limited funding for education we should not waste it on ill-conceived inspections.
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

• I obviously inhabit a parallel universe to that of your editors and contributors. In my Britain, black and minority ethnic children and young people are more likely to end up in schools struggling to give them a high-quality education, their parents are more likely to be frustrated then engaged and black and minority ethnic teachers are more likely to have disciplinary proceedings taken against them. In this world, it is difficult to find evidence that Ofsted has led to improvements in the experience of these children, their parents or this group of teachers, except to note that “outstanding” schools have very quickly been shown to be failing as a result of a “Trojan horse”.

I look forward to your next review of Ofsted and how it has contributed to progressing equality for all.
Jabeer Butt
Deputy chief executive, Race Equality Foundation

• I hope the consultation Ofsted is engaged in will involve a wide spectrum of opinion – far wider than the Guardian’s so-called “public inquiry” which, with one or two exceptions, features the usual suspects. I am surprised at the political and educational naivety of many of their responses. Ofsted is not going to go away – there is no political will for that; no political capital to be gained from it. In the current climate, parents and local communities are not going to be satisfied with peer evaluation by schools, even if moderated by a distant Ofsted. There can be no return to a golden age of stress-free inspection and evaluation.

Certainly Ofsted requires improvement – as it itself has belatedly acknowledged. Its culture is shifting for the better (in my judgment) and the way to work towards a more responsive, more proportionate and more humane inspection regime is to support that shift, though not in an unquestioning way.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Prime Minister David Cameron Greets Emir of Qatar David Cameron. ‘Perhaps our 27 fellow EU members and the ­commission have become so fed up with Britain’s persistent moaning that they’d quite like to see the back of us,’ writes Dick Boland. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty

The £1.7bn statistical adjustment is painted as some sort of invoice for money to be spent by “Eurocrats” (EU’s €2bn demand on UK, 24 October). No mention of the fact that this money will largely be spent in member states and that poorer countries get a larger proportion of that. Some time ago it was thought to be in the UK national interest to support less-affluent economies, in particular in southern and eastern Europe. That apparently has changed to just making sure to pay as little as possible.

On that note it is misleading to show a graphic just with the total payment and repayment numbers by country. These countries vary massively regarding the size of their economies. Payments in percent of GDP would show a more appropriate picture and demonstrate the UK’s €1.7bn is not that exciting. Another interesting possibility would have been the percentage of total contributions since 1994, the period this adjustment covers. That little bit of adding context would have made the difference to the tabloid papers.
Stefan Wundrak
Garching bei München, Germany

• Jonathan Freedland’s article (In his anger, Cameron has made Britain a toxic brand, 25 October) hints at but does not develop what could be a very real scenario. Perhaps, just perhaps, our 27 fellow EU members and the commission have become so fed up with Britain’s persistent moaning and general obstructionism that they’d quite like to see the back of us.

Perhaps the £1.7bn “adjustment” is part of a cunning plan to push us further in that direction. Perhaps if or when Britain does vote to leave their attitude will be “OK, off you go and good riddance; oh and don’t think for a minute you are going to get a sweetheart, single-market, trade deal”. Just a thought.
Dick Boland
Lewes, East Sussex

• It has recently come to the light of the authorities, mainly because I’ve been bragging about how much better I’ve been doing than my neighbours, that my income over the previous years has been greater than I have previously declared. I also failed to reveal certain cash-in-hand, black-economy items. I am now being pursued for a “surcharge” on my extra income. This is grossly unfair. Will Mr Cameron please help me?
Doug Edwards

I was saddened to read Rose George’s article about dementia and to realise just how bad things are in the UK (How not to solve the dementia crisis, Journal, 29 October). I am thankful for moving to France 17 years ago. Four years ago my wife started to lose her memory. Within four weeks she had seen a specialist and a psychologist, and had been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. She was put on to medication at once and her progress was followed by our family doctor and the specialist.

A year ago she had reached a point where she was unable to wash and dress herself and she was assigned the aides-soignant. At about 8.30am the aide arrives, takes her into the bathroom, toilets and showers her, with hair washed and dried too if necessary, then dresses her. At the same time, the service of an aide for persons who have problems living at home came in. My wife was assessed, then help decided on. Now, each month I receive a book of cheques which I can use to pay for a carer to spend time with her. The cheques cover three hours a week and I pay for an extra one, so that she has two two-hour sessions per week. She has now been accepted for the local day centre. This means she will be in a group of similar people, maximum size 15 and with five specially trained nurses, and will spend the whole day being worked with and cared for. Also she is collected by taxi each morning and returned the same way in the evening. I do have to pay for this service – €55 a day. We have started with one day a week, but I have the option to increase it to two days a week which I will certainly do.

It is obvious that France is a long way ahead of the UK – largely thanks to that much-reviled former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who had the foresight to realise this was something that would grow and that the country needed to be ready for it. When will the UK catch up?
Ian Cooper
Molitg les Bains, France

A boy of 10 looking sad and depressed in his school uniform Casually offensive remarks about religion, ethnicity sexuality or looks can be taken harshly by young people. Photograph: TMO Pictures/Alamy

I was saddened, but not surprised to read of the archbishop of Canterbury’s warning about an upsurge in racist comments (Cameron hardens stance on Brussels’ £1.7bn demand, 28 October). Although these are not criminal or violent acts, the language we use casually to describe others we perceive as different in any way, can have an equally damaging long-term effect. Our educational charity, the Anne Frank Trust UK, works with over 30,000 young people a year, in schools, prisons and communities throughout the country, and we hear from many young people what it feels like to be the victim of casually offensive remarks about their religion, ethnicity, sexuality or looks. But all is not lost for our next generation, thanks to a teenage victim of racism who speaks across the generations about where casual bigotry can lead. A recent study by the school of psychology at the University of Kent and Independent Academic Research Studies, found that 92% of young people who had gone through an Anne Frank Trust intensive educational programme better recognised the dangers of prejudice. We hope they will carry these lessons with them through life.
Gillian Walnes
Co-founder and executive director, Anne Frank Trust UK

The aviation minister believes it is so vital to keep “our regions connected with London” that he’s coughed up a £3m subsidy for Newquay airport (Report, 27 October). I didn’t hear much from the minister when Blackpool airport closed two weeks ago. Perhaps some regions are more important than others.
Ron McGarvey
Sandbach, Cheshire

• Isn’t it ironic that as Sir Nicholas Winton is awarded the highest of civilian honours by the Czech Republic for saving 669 children from the Nazis (Report, 29 October), the Home Office intends to let migrant children and their families drown rather than save them (Report, 28 October)? What does Sir Nicholas think of this, I wonder?
Phil Rhoden
Kidderminster, Worcestershire

• It may be that diets of apples and Diet Coke, or nine eggs a day, are ridiculous and extreme (Why all the ludicrous macho diets, Shortcuts, 28 October) but Charlie Falconer an idiot? Never. Can’t speak for the other two.
Margaret Prosser
House of Lords

• If Rosemary Auchmuty is correct (Letters, 28 October) it follows that there is little point in feminism – after all, women have significant differences between us on the basis of class, colour, religion, wealth etc. It is through what we’ve in common – ie fighting discrimination hatred and violence – that women, black people and disabled people have created movements for change. I’ve lived through many of the struggles for solidarity of the LGBT community and they are little different from the ones I’ve addressed against racism and violence against women. Solidarity or atomisation?
Linda Bellos

• I am 66 years old and I have not led a sheltered life. Penises and menstruation I know about – but what on earth is hydraulics (The woman on a crusade to give the internet generation a porn-free sex education, Family, 25 October)?
Phil Harvey


My late father, Kit Davison, never having met his own father (Private William Reginald Davison, killed Ypres 1915, around the very day my father was born), Armistice Day means a lot to my family. But to remember the fallen, we should keep it to a day, or maximum a few days.

TV presenters starting to wear poppies on 1 October is nauseating. Armistice “Day” will become meaningless if we “celebrate” it for two months. We all know that, immediately after Halloween, our supermarkets will start playing muzak such as “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas”.  And in January they’ll put Easter eggs on the shelves.

Perhaps even worse is the new tendency for celebrities to out-poppy one another. I am writing this while angered by Home Secretary Theresa May’s glittering designer  poppy during Prime Minister’s questions in the Commons. How dare she?

Every man who fell during the Great War – the grandfather I never got a chance to hug, his comrades, officers, and their young German and other enemy counterparts – had nothing in common but for the last breath they took.

They died equal. The poppy is a symbol of equality, not of status or celebrity. Lest we forget, keep it simple. Otherwise we may indeed forget.

P J Davison
Richmond upon Thames


Another Afghan fiasco is ending. My heart sank in 2006 when the Defence Secretary John Reid announced Britain was once again to invade Afghanistan to “help the Afghans construct their own democracy”.  I knew my soldier son, who had already invaded Iraq at Tony Blair’s behest – and seen two of his best friends killed in that benighted adventure – would be deployed

After eight years, he made it back alive but he left 450 of his comrades in the desert wastes where the former Defence Secretary had suggested “not a shot would be fired”. He left an Afghan government mired in corruption, opium production at record levels and the Taliban, as strong as ever, waiting to return as soon as Western troops leave.

Nothing speaks more clearly of our failure than the memorial wall at Camp Bastion being dismantled and shipped home to stop it being desecrated by “grateful” Afghans.

The Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews


We must act now against Ebola threat

I hope that those members of the Home Affairs Select Committee who met with the Mayor of Calais (report, 29 October) also read your editorial on the problems of the illicit immigrants from Africa who risk everything to reach mainland Europe, and also your front page piece on the problems facing the West African countries in seeking to control the Ebola epidemic.

Unless a truly international response, in money terms on the scale of spending on the wars against terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, is mobilised at once, and the epidemic is somehow contained, then it will spread not only to other African countries but to the rest of the world with Europe being the first stop.

It would only take a small number of those fleeing West Africa to pass the infection on to those crossing the Mediterranean. Given the conditions of life of those packed into boats, in shipping containers or in the makeshift camps where they settle temporarily once they have landed, the spread of the disease would be inevitable and impossible to contain.

The European countries affected, including Britain and France, should be taking steps immediately to ensure that all new illegal immigrants are received and accommodated properly and in such a way that as soon as one with Ebola is identified then they can be properly isolated and treated and others quarantined. This should apply to the unauthorised camps at Calais, and cross-channel agreement reached now on what happens when the first case of Ebola breaks out there.

John Orton

Forget HS2, let’s focus on HS4 and HS5

The Independent, registered in Derry Street in London, risks failing to see that infrastructure is a countrywide issue. It might be thought that the paper has a one-track mind, that being HS2 (editorial, 28 October).

HS3 would bring real benefits to the North, in contrast to the incredibly expensive HS2, the object of which is to extract resources from the provinces and transfer them to imperial London. That is the opposite of the devolution we need.

Rather than attacking HS3, The Independent should promote HS4, and HS5, from Bristol, across Saxland (South-east, South- west and East Anglia), and improved commuter lines within the city regions. That could all be done for a fraction of the cost of HS2. But it would mean investing in the provinces, instead of spending many times as much on London.

Robert Craig


The carbon-intensive rail project HS3, like HS2, is a costly fantasy. The proposal for an HS3 to cross the Pennines is a tacit admission that the entire concept of HS2 is a disastrous mistake. It’s an acknowledgement that instead of building routes into London that only the rich can afford, we should be looking to increase capacity and provide better connections between our northern towns and cities.

But the HS3 proposal is not the way to do it. By re-opening old lines – such as that between Skipton and Colne, and the “Woodhead” route between Sheffield and Manchester – we could produce a major capacity increase, adding two trans-Pennine routes at less than 10 per cent of the cost of the proposed HS3.

Rupert Read
Green Party transport spokesperson


Your editorial (28 October) refers to the Humber Bridge as “the majestic sweep of another transport infrastructure project that promised much but failed to deliver”. Unlike HS3 which, if I ever live to see it, will bring significant economic benefits to the long-neglected M62 corridor, the Humber Bridge was a simple political bribe at the January 1966 by-election for the Hull North marginal seat.

Harold Wilson had a majority of just three and was facing defeat but he relied on a speech from the Transport Minister Barbara Castle made in the week before the poll in which she promised to build the bridge. Labour won with a 4.5 per cent swing, the largest swing to a governing party in a marginal by-election since 1924. As a result, the Humber Bridge was constructed in the late 1970s, during the time I spent at Hull University studying economics. I watched as the magnificent structure was being built, the longest single span suspension bridge in the world and, as my wonderful economics lecturer Dr Eric Evans was famous for stating, “a bridge to nowhere”.

Jeff Caplan
Hale, Cheshire


The public, not Farage, is setting the agenda

Andrew Grice (25 October) asserts that Nigel Farage is now setting the political agenda. Not so: it is (at last) the British people.

Many UK voters have for years had their perfectly rational fears about many aspects of the EU’s governance, and in particular levels of immigration into the UK, ignored by the main political parties. Ukip is articulating these fears, and in doing so appears to be drawing in support from across the political spectrum – including people like myself who have always voted Liberal.

For too long most politicians have seemed deaf to the concerns of many UK residents. They now appear to be worried that their policies are not reflecting the views of an ever-growing proportion of the electorate.  If the established political parties broadly believe in the EU as currently constructed, they should defend their positions. The unseemly rush by the both Labour and the Tories to update party policy, in an attempt to head off Ukip, reflects badly on leadership and policy makers in both camps. It does however suggest that the body setting the political agenda is the voting public.

Michael Forster
East Horsley, Surrey


Argentina’s hypocrisy over the Malvinas

The hypocrisy of Argentina’s “Secretary for the Malvinas” (a vacuous government non-job if there ever was one) is staggering. It takes quite a brass neck to complain “about sovereignty, about territory” when his country has been quite happy to strip that from others.

 Until Argentina grants independence to and restores its tranches of the kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia, whose aborigine Mapuche peoples were invaded and annexed by Chile and Argentina and have suffered under Buenos Aires’ colonial boot-heel for over 150 years – continuing to be discriminated against today – Argentina does not have even the flimsiest moral position from which to complain about British “imperialism”.

Robert Frazer

What’s wrong with bumping into the PM?

Your report on the unfortunate Dean Farley  (28 October) simply said:  “He was released without charge.” What did the poor man do, except collide with Cameron, whose security detail were caught napping? He should sue for wrongful arrest.

P J Hill


Sir, Emma Duncan’s piece on a more tolerant Britain (“Believe it or not, the bigots are dying out”, Oct 28) ironically appeared just a few hours after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s warning about an upsurge in racist comments reported by clergy. Much of what Duncan says about attitudes changing over the decades is sound. But Archbishop Welby is also right to voice his concern. The language we use casually to describe others can have along-term effect. Here at the Anne Frank Trust UK we work with 30,000 young people a year and hear directly what it feels like to be the victim of casually offensive remarks about religion, ethnicity, sexuality or looks. Our programme helps these young people to better recognise the dangers of prejudice. We hope that they will carry these lessons with them, and that in future decades Britain will be held as a beacon of tolerance.
Gillian Walnes
Executive director, Anne Frank Trust UK

Sir, The forms of bigotry of which Emma Duncan writes are dying out — but an alternative strain of the disease is growing. It can be seen in those who insult, ostracise and seek to gag those who disagree with the accepted wisdom, of which the new bigots perceive themselves to be supreme arbiters. This approach, combined with an excessive fear of causing offence and the often synthetic outrage thus engendered, has hampered debate and impeded problem-solving in myriad areas: the issues associated with immigration and climate change are but two. I am as pleased as Duncan at the progress that our nation has made. My hope is that we can grow into a country where, within the constraints of the law, everyone feels free to express their views and others have the civility to listen carefully and respectfully, however much they might disagree, and where no one seeks to cause offence but all realise that they have no right not to be offended. In such an atmosphere we might make mature and sensible decisions.
Mark Franklin
Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir, In the late 1960s invitations to my house were shunned by classmates. Rumour had it that they would be forced to eat sheep’s eyes for supper as my family not being English ate “foreign” food. Thank goodness the bigots are, as Emma Duncan claims, dying out. However, Duncan’s surprise that concern over immigration is growing at a time when racism is in decline is curious. Equating the two has, after all, helped to stifle debate for many years. She may be right in believing that the concerns of some for their wages, jobs or culture are just selfish or de minimis, but she should not just dismiss them all as bigots.
J Mark Martyrossian
London SW1

Sir, While I agree with much of what Emma Duncan says, the patronising style of the conclusions is quite extraordinary. Yet another establishment figure deigns to tell the “mass” that their concerns are really ill-founded because she knows better. This is exactly what is driving voters to Ukip.
Kevin Smith
Berkhamsted, Herts

Sir, Emma Duncan wonders why racism plays no part in the current concern about immigration. I suggest that the concern is caused simply by pressure of numbers in an overcrowded island, regardless of people’s country of origin. Excluding Malta, England is Europe’s most densely populated country and our precious countryside is being lost to development. Public concern is justified.
Rosemary Horsey
Stockbridge, Hants

Sir, Reading the opinion pieces by Emma Duncan and Ed Conway (“Europe is still awaiting its Thatcher moment”), it seems we can lay claim to leading western Europe in both tolerance and economics, strong cards indeed — and we have a chance to build our relationships with the rest of the world based on our strengths. It is infuriating, then, that our government prefers to pander to Ukip and so waste this historic opportunity. It’s easy to forget that the UK rose as one nation to cheer home Mo Farah, a black, Somali-born Muslim just two years ago. Some of us are still out here cheering, wherever Cameron and his cronies may try to lead us.
Ian Midgley
Hadlow, Kent

Sir, The problem of “revolving-door payments” for public-sector executives (report, Oct 28) is often the result of staff cuts that are made too quickly. This leads to organisations struggling — and so the need to rehire. Yes, action should be taken to address payments to senior staff who quickly return to the public sector, but better planning is needed too.
Eamon Keating
Chairman, Defence Police Federation

Sir, Apropos your report which said that “stealth jets are to land in 2018, but only four of them” (Oct 29). How will we know if there are only four?
David Leibling
Pinner, Middlesex

Sir, Why would anyone want Elsanta strawberries at Christmas? (report, Oct 29). We won’t buy them at any time — totally tasteless!
Martin O’Keeffe
West Chiltington, W Sussex

Sir, Following the letter on whether Manchester is in the north (Oct 29), it should be pointed out that the centre of Great Britain is near Dunsop Bridge (as computed by Ordnance Survey using the centre-of-mass principle). This is 35 miles north of Manchester, so that city together with Leeds and Hull are in the southern half of Britain. The border between south and north lies 1.5 miles south of Forton (Lancaster) services on the M6, or at Junction 46 (Wetherby North) on the A1 (M). York can be called a northern city (but only just).
Scirard Lancelyn Green
Bebington, Wirral


Chopin composed the Heroic Polonaise in 1842 

6:55AM GMT 29 Oct 2014


SIR – I’ve never met a Pole I didn’t like.

Only the other day, absent-mindedly whistling a tune from some bit of classical music as I cycled through the streets, I passed a group of building workers having a break. They all looked up at me and grinned: one gave me a wave. I was puzzled, then realised I was whistling Chopin – the Heroic Polonaise.

How many British builders would be able to identify an early 19th-century piano work?

Mike Foster
Teddington, Middlesex

Haitch is for Harrius

SIR – Your correspondents who so hate unnecessary aspiration may like to know that the defect has been abhorred for a long time.

The poet Catullus, of the first century BC, writes about a certain Arrius who so annoyed his contemporaries in Rome with his aitches, that “everyone’s ears had a rest” when the culprit was posted to Syria.

Much to their dismay they learnt not long afterwards that after Arrius’s passage, the Ionian Sea had become the Hionian.

Sally Knights
Classics Department, Redland High School

Blue-sky thinking

SIR – Your headline “Met Office pledges reliable forecast” implies that this will be a one-off event.

Can you please find out on which day this will occur so that I can plan ahead?

Ron Mason
East Grinstead, West Sussex

SIR – Surely we don’t need a shiny new computer from the Met Office to tell us it will rain on bank holiday Monday as usual.

Peter Golding
St Austell, Cornwall

We should restore real discretionary power to head teachers

What a carry on: millions will soon be grappling with the family’s annual holiday packing dilemma

Should parents take their children out of school for holidays? Photo: PHOTOLIBRARY.COM

6:56AM GMT 29 Oct 2014


SIR – Throughout my 31-year teaching career, it was accepted that a head teacher could, in certain circumstances, allow pupils to be absent for 10 consecutive school days in order to accompany their parents on holiday.

Those circumstances did not permit parents to take a holiday during term time simply because off-season prices were lower. They certainly did not allow pupils to miss odd days for trips to see relatives or to go Christmas shopping. It amazes me that some local authorities feel that the latest legislation to stem the tide of absence is wrong.

The problem could, of course, be solved by restoring real discretionary power to head teachers.

Christopher Pratt
Dorking, Surrey

SIR – No matter how worthy the intentions of those who insist children should not be removed from school for holidays, they take no account of parents who work in service industries.

During my employment it was common that some parents only had leave in school holidays every three years, which is unfair to both children and parents.

Chris Spurrier
Eversley Cross, Hampshire

Bustling buses

SIR – Around 6.5 million bus journeys are made every day across the capital and the numbers continue to grow. Buses are rarely empty, although inevitably there are fewer people on them when approaching the terminus.

Our growing city requires major redevelopment works that affect all traffic. Nevertheless, bus reliability remains exemplary and the quantity, quality and range of services provided in London is the envy of the rest of the country.

Mike Weston
Director of Buses, Transport for London
London SW1

SIR – Your correspondent complains that his two-mile taxi journey took an hour because of numerous empty buses.

There would have been less congestion if he’d taken the bus.

Nick Cowley
Nuthurst, West Sussex

Dean Farley, the man who ran into David Cameron, clearly had his thoughts elsewhere at the time

The unidentified young man was bundled away by police officers after shoving Mr Cameron as he left an engagement in Leeds

Dean Farley being bundled away by police officers after shoving Mr Cameron as he left an engagement in Leeds Photo: Steven Schofield/

6:57AM GMT 29 Oct 2014


SIR – Dean Farley, the man who ran into David Cameron, denied seeing him. As photographs show Farley wearing earphones, this is likely to be true.

I have lost count of the number of times that distracted runners have crossed the road in front of me without looking. Fortunately I have managed to read their body language and avoid a collision.

Adrian Waller
Woodsetts, South Yorkshire

SIR – While holidaying in the Isles of Scilly in the Sixties, my girlfriend and I were walking to our hotel when there was a power cut. Struggling through the dark and crowded street, I cannoned into a man: we each offered our apologies and went on our way. My girlfriend then pointed out that it was Harold Wilson, the prime minister, that I had almost knocked down.

He and his wife owned a house there and consequently were frequent visitors. In those days there were no security guards in attendance, and he could often be seen walking alone on the beaches with his dog.

David Partington
Higher Walton, Warrington

Protect British heritage for the sake of tourism

The Ely bypass will have a negative impact upon city views, and all for the sake of convenience

Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, 1924-1926

Changing views: Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, 1924-1926, by F C Varley  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM GMT 29 Oct 2014


SIR – It is sad indeed that the sublime prospect of Ely Cathedral from the surrounding Fens should be forfeit for the sake of saving a few minutes for residents driving to their local railway station or supermarket. The new bypass was opposed by English Heritage, which proposed an alternative, but its advice was set aside by the local bureaucrats.

Heritage is vital for our tourist industry, one of Britain’s few growing and important export earners. Unfortunately, this message has not penetrated the skulls of the planners and councillors.

Peter Milne
Old Catton, Norfolk

SIR – Your article about the Ely bypass only tells one side of the story. In a poll more than 80 per cent of the people of Ely supported the proposal. The A142 runs through the south of the city and crosses the railway line near the station. Cars can go under a low bridge but lorries have to use a level crossing that is closed for approximately half of every hour. This corner of Ely is therefore spoiled by long queues of lorries. A predicted increase in the number of goods trains passing this way means that the queues are only going to get worse unless something is done.

The bypass will have some impact on views of the city from one of the four approach roads. Many of us who have studied the plans believe it will not be too severe, and there is no doubt about the benefits. When the main A142 no longer runs through our lovely city, it will be a more pleasant place to live in and to visit.

Wendy Cope
Ely, Cambridgeshire

The new laws should apply to all managers, not just those earning over the £100,000 threshold

NHS Budget

New laws should stop NHS managers receiving redundancy pay-offs only to be rehired elsewhere in the health service Photo: Alamy

7:00AM GMT 29 Oct 2014


SIR – The eye-watering redundancy payouts to revolving-door NHS chiefs should never have been allowed to happen.

NHS trusts are not private companies, they are taxpayer-funded.

Why does this new legislation only apply to those earning more than £100,000? Legions of NHS middle management employees would also benefit from excessive payouts, far outweighing payments to top management.

And why are the Armed Forces, the

BBC and the Bank of England to be exempt?

Bill Parish
Bromley, Kent

SIR – For many years hospitals were managed by ward sisters, matrons and a competent management committee.

Now we have managers managing the managers, on undeserved salaries.

Pat Booth
Ilkley, West Yorkshire

SIR – I retired from the NHS in 2007, after 40 years of service. Shortly before this I was having lunch with a colleague, a senior consultant surgeon, who said that he and I were retiring in the nick of time.

Looking at the volume of correspondence on the subject of the NHS, and notwithstanding the undoubtedly large quantity unpublished, I can only agree with him wholeheartedly.

It saddens me greatly.

Dr John Gladstone
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, highlights the importance of making savings within the NHS.

I have just seen the practice nurse at my local surgery to have a single stitch removed. The nurse used a 12cm stainless steel pair of tweezers, which are “single use”.

No wonder savings are needed.

Nigel Harrison
Edgefield, Norfolk

SIR – The five-year plan for the NHS presented by Simon Stevens shows the economic cost of our unhealthy lifestyles.

Physical inactivity can lead to obesity and a higher risk of chronic conditions, placing huge demands on NHS resources. Walking is the easiest and most accessible form of exercise and is beneficial for mental health and wellbeing.

To encourage people to take action we must make our streets safe and attractive. An Active Travel Bill, like the one passed by the Welsh Assembly last year, should be introduced for the rest of Britain. It would give priority to pedestrians by addressing issues such as pavement parking, high traffic speeds and dangerous crossing points, thus allowing local authorities, transport departments and planners to make walking safer and easier for all.

Joe Irvin
Chief Executive, Living Streets
London. E1

Irish Times:

A chara, – I see from his column (“Never mind the evidence, feel the ‘truthiness’ of what Gerry says”, Opinion & Analysis, October 28th) that Fintan O’Toole is now an expert on me. This on top of his other accomplishments. – Is mise,


Teach Laighean,

Baile Átha Cliath 2.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole should remember that the equivalent of “truthiness’ for the IRA is “mental reservation” for the Catholic Church. – Yours, etc,


Glin, Co Limerick.

Sir, – I was drawn to the recent story in The Irish Times which declared dramatically in its headline “Adams and Sinn Féin suffer drop in support” (October 27th).

I was surprised to discover that on closer examination the story which followed declared that the Sunday Business Post poll indicated support for Sinn Féin had dropped by 3 per cent, while another poll in the Sunday Times showed support for the party unchanged. In the same polls, it was reported that Fine Gael support was down by 2 per cent in one poll, and up by 2 per cent in the other poll. Fianna Fáil remained unchanged in both polls. How can this be declared a slump in support for Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams?

Would a far more accurate headline not be “Kenny and Adams show drop in support, Fianna Fáil unchanged”?

The past week has seen a media frenzy, most of it directed against Sinn Féin and in particular Gerry Adams. The coverage was unbalanced, with an antiGerry Adams and Sinn Féin agenda permeating the entire coverage. What seemed to be forgotten in the media frenzy was that at the heart of this story was a young woman who had suffered a great deal.

Media outlets in Ireland have not covered themselves in glory in recent decades, failing to predict the economic crash, not giving support to the peace process in its infancy, and failing generally to act as a critical watchdog for the people of Ireland. The worry is that while the media outlets are once again in overdrive over Sinn Féin, what really important story are we missing?

I wonder if your readers would agree that having had the banks tested recently, a Dáil committee about to investigate the banking collapse, numerous inquiries into the Catholic Church, that the time has come for the media in Ireland to be stress-tested? It is the only institution that has avoided intense scrutiny. – Yours, etc,


Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

A chara, – Once again the ordinary people are getting hit in the pocket with the news that fares on public transport are to be increased yet again (“Public transport fares to increase”, October 29th). This truly is an outrage.

Only last week Enda Kenny was in Brussels seeking an improved deal on greenhouse gas emissions in an offsetting arrangement for our agricultural sector. The latest fares price rise will only serve to push people back into their cars. Traffic on our roads has already increased to pre-recession levels with our road infrastructure now requiring upgrading to deal with same. The National Transport Authority and the Coalition have not taken a cohesive approach here on any level.

The public transport companies have argued that they need the fare increases to supply the services. The travelling public is an easy target.

If the Government cannot increase subvention to the public transport companies then the time has come to introduce competition into the public transport sector. If Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus cannot provide much-needed services at an affordable price for the consumer, then open up the sector to operators who can. Enough is enough! – Is mise,


Malahide Road,

Dublin 17.

Sir, – I nearly fell off my chair last night when I read that the minimum bus fare is now €1.95, a 39 per cent increase since 2012. To get a bus to bring you a couple of stops is nearly the price of a taxi fare. The bus and rail officials state that the numbers travelling have increased. Who are they fooling? Have they looked at the age profiles lately; there are now more over-65s than ever and they can travel for free. We hear about deficits and shortfalls but the reason for the losses is that bus travel is now not affordable to people on a low income. The minimum fare for a couple of stops should be no more than €1.

Look what happened in the past with real reductions in air fares – the overall revenues increased. Needless to say, next year there will be more price increases because the deficit will be even larger! – Yours, etc,


Malahide, Co Dublin.

A chara, – Carol Coulter’s article regarding the second interim report from the Child Care Law Reporting Project is both informative and thought-provoking (“Family court urgently needed for vulnerable parents and children”, October 28th). It is obvious from the report that there is a need for the setting up of family courts throughout the country to ensure consistency and continuity of care and support for some of the most vulnerable children and parents.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the quality and consistency of care provided by foster families. The vast majority of foster families provide a loving, caring and nurturing environment for children.

Many of these families work closely with the Child and Family Agency to ensure optimum care is provided.

However there is a minority of foster families whose quality of care is not what it should be.

Thankfully such foster families are in the minority, but with agencies crying out for families to foster children, it is incumbent on all to monitor carefully the welfare of children placed in foster care. With so many social workers weighed down with heavy caseloads, it is inevitable that some children will fall through the cracks.

There is an onus on all of us in society to ensure the welfare of such children is not compromised further because there are not enough social workers employed to monitor their progress, development or wellbeing. – Is mise,


Drogheda, Co Louth.

Sir, – We are in a brief hiatus in the ongoing negotiations between the EU and US on the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).

In official EU circles it is painted as an opportunity to improve efficiencies between EU and US markets through alignment of regulatory bureaucracy. The advocates promise significant increases in GDP, jobs and standards of living. If the results of previous trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) are anything to go by then ordinary citizens can look forward to job losses, wage stagnation and degradation in public services through exploitative privatisation. Corporate interests were well served by Nafta and no doubt will be well looked after with TTIP. Thus of more than 560 lobbying encounters with the TTIP, approximately 92 per cent were from business lobbyists.

One of the most controversial aspects of the proposed agreement is the concept of ISDS or investor state dispute settlements, the inclusion of which is still in the balance despite recent declarations by Jean-Claude Juncker.

This would allow for corporate interests to sue host countries if, for example, a democratic decision were made to reverse a policy of privatisation of public services. These negotiations are being run by unelected technocrats, under the influence of corporate lobbyists and with little visibility to ordinary citizens for whom the impact will be most significant. What little protections there remain for public services and worker rights within the EU would be in serious danger if TTIP goes ahead.

This agreement, like those before it, merely facilitates the growing global corporate hegemony at the cost of democratic sovereignty. Unlike previous EU treaties there will be no referendum, but the impact of this agreement may be more far-reaching than any previous EU treaty. Increased public awareness and debate on this issue is vital now before any deal is ratified. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – By the time this letter is published, the official death toll from the current outbreak of the Ebola virus will have passed the 5,000 mark. The real figure is, of course, much higher.

The mixture of emotions this provokes is hard to describe. Naturally, I think of friends and associates in west Africa who face the threat, some of them working hard to counter it on behalf of everyone else. But there is also profound frustration that it has come to this, when the situation could have been avoided. Médicins San Frontières (MSF) has been working on the ground from the very start, and warning for many months that urgent action was needed.

It’s not as if we don’t know how to tackle Ebola. It has been stopped in the past, and Nigeria and Senegal have both halted outbreaks in recent weeks, largely with their own resources. Work on vaccines and treatments is of course welcome for the medium term, but we already have the technology to stop the epidemic. This mainly involves education, treatment centres, chlorine and personal protection equipment, contact tracing and trained staff. It is not a high-tech challenge.

Ebola is not infectious until it shows symptoms. Most of those who are infected have been dealing with people who were ill or died in the community. When people are turned away from treatment centres because there is no space left, their return to the community can only mean one thing – that it will spread to more people.

When mobilised, humanity is capable of cooperating to achieve extraordinary and seemingly impossible things – some of them inspiring and positive, others frivolous or even destructive. It’s one of the things which defines us. The way we have collectively responded to this outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have achieved so much since emerging from war, is not one of our successes. The opportunity to prove ourselves as a species in this case is rapidly disappearing. – Yours, etc,


Institute for International

Conflict Resolution

and Reconstruction,

Dublin City University,

Sir, – I find it extraordinary that Eircom boasts of offering “extra-fast” broadband (“Eircom to offer extra-fast fibre broadband”, October 28th). In rural areas, one relies on atmospheric pressure or what phase the moon is in to see how long it takes to download one’s emails or surf the web! – Yours, etc,


Mount Plunkett,

Co Roscommon.

A chara, – I was bemused to read today that Eircom is to offer extra-fast fibre broadband in 66 towns across the State. Here in Sixmilebridge, Eircom maintains it has efibre available since August. I know of nobody locally who has it installed. Although our home is less than 900 metres from the nearest fibre-enabled cabinet, nobody at Eircom can tell me when, or indeed if, it will actually be available. The newly announced roll-out should be taken with a very large grain of salt. – Is mise,


Droichead Abhann

Uí gCearnaigh,

Co an Chláir.

Sir, – Many of my patients travel to nearby Fermanagh to fill their prescriptions because it is cheaper to do so there. Paul Cullen reports that the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association has stated in a booklet that the price of new medicines must reflect a “fair return” on investment (“Pharma lobby warns against new drug price cuts”, October 28th).

A question that ought to be asked more rigorously is, how many of these new medicines offer a real improvement on existing cheaper medicines? The fact is that few new medicines are what is known in the industry as “breakthrough drugs” (ie offering a real advance in treatment). Many new medicines are “me too ” medicines (ie they do much the same thing as existing medicines).

The State bill for reimbursable medicines is over two billion euro annually. Surely we should be comparing all new medicines with existing medicines and only reimburse at a higher price if the newer medicines are shown to offer a genuine improvement for patients? – Yours, etc,


Virginia, Co Cavan.

Sir, – Tom Cooper (October 17th) suggests that State subsidies enable private schools to provide facilities that State schools cannot afford. This idea complicates and, I believe, distorts the reality. State subsidies go to all schools and enable them to function with a barely adequate level of facilities. (Many supposedly free schools ask parents to “volunteer” the cost of specific extras.)

Fee-charging schools use the income from fees to provide the extra facilities (including additional teachers) that raise standards and maximise their pupils’ advantages. The parents contribute through taxation to the subsidies to all schools. They should not be penalised for seeking higher standards for their children by paying extra.

The unfairness of the system should be addressed by increasing the State’s general subsidies to education, and not by discriminating against fee-paying schools. – Yours, etc,


Avenue Louise,



Sir, – Regarding the launch of Des O’Malley’s memoir Conduct Unbecoming, your newspaper notes that “A galaxy of luminaries from the former political party was in attendance, including its three former leaders, Michael McDowell, Mary Harney and founder leader Des O’Malley” (“PDs gather for founding leader’s book launch”, October 29th). Shouldn’t that be “three of the party’s five former leaders”? Or do Ciarán Cannon’s (2008) and Noel Grealish’s (2009) albeit ephemeral periods as leaders of the once radical, but now redundant, PDs not count? – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Incessant changing of lanes for short distances with fast overtaking cars cutting in early to facilitate even faster overtaking cars is a common sight; drivers do well when they mind their own business. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Every day I wake up with great anticipation of the day’s driving ahead. What is in store for me today? The merry lane-change waltz? This is where several cars, without any indication, sweep into your lane or my lane, sweep out again, into the path of a hapless motorist, who is clearly traumatised by the experience. It’s the ballet of the motorway.

Provided you can keep your nerve, you can be entertained for hours. I also love the massive trucks tailgating Micras. Just for fun, I guess. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Every year there are letters in The Irish Times complaining about the Dublin marathon.

This event has been run on the same day for 35 years so it’s not as if those who complain don’t have enough notice of the event.

Marathons are held in hundreds of cities around the world and they bring in tourists; over 4,000 people this year visited to run. Add to that figure the family and friends who came to watch.

As someone who ran in the marathon, I can say the crowds who came out to watch and support were phenomenal. But, as they say, there’s always one.– Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Irish Independent:

Once again, the ordinary folks are getting hit in the pocket with fares on public transport due to be increased yet again -by as much as 28pc in some cases. This truly is an outrage.

Only last week Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in Brussels seeking an improved deal on greenhouse gas emissions in an offsetting arrangement for our agricultural sector. The last price hike will only serve to push people back into their cars. Traffic on our roads has already increased to pre-recession levels, with our road infrastructure now requiring upgrading to deal with the increased volume of traffic.

The National Transport Authority and the Fine Gael / Labour Government have not taken a cohesive approach in relation to this on any level. The public transport companies have argued that they need the fare increases in order to supply the services. The travelling public are an easy target.

If the Government cannot increase subvention to the public transport companies then the time has come to finally introduce competition into the public transport sector.

If Bus Eireann, Iarnrod Eireann and Dublin Bus cannot provide much-needed services at an affordable price for the consumer then open up the sector to operators which can! Enough is enough!

Killian Brennan

Clare Village, Dublin 17

Cigarette price hikes foolish

I am a former smoker – 40 cigarettes per day for 55 years. However, I am very concerned at the claims by NGOs such as ASH.

Their main proposal aimed at reducing smoking is to increase the price of cigarettes. They seem to ignore the fact that increasing the price of cigarettes has resulted in a significant increase in the consumption of legal and illegal cheap foreign cigarettes.

More worrying is the fact that many dangerous counterfeit cigarettes are being consumed.

It is also a fact that the poor and vulnerable spend a greater percentage of their income on cigarettes. It seems reasonable to assume that in these cases every euro increase results in less food, clothing, etc for the children of the poor.

Is this not contrary to the spirit of the “Children’s Referendum”? More of a “Phyrric loss” than a victory.

Charlie Ryan


Honour war dead, not wars

“The people who’ve died in war should be honoured, but war should not be honoured” said the late great historian Howard Zinn. That statement encapsulates the current trend of glorifying war.

The Remembrance Poppy may not be as widely available in Ireland as it is over here in England, but if your readers see them on sale I would encourage them to ask if they sell the white poppy.

Unlike the red ones, the white poppy is to honour all of the war dead, including civilians (around nine out of 10 fatalities in war today are regular people like you, me, and your children). The white poppies are made by Peace Pledge Union.

In Britain we have to get out of this delusion that all of ‘our boys’ are heroes. Britain, the US and it’s allies killed around a million people in Iraq alone. War turns everyone into ‘bad guys’. And when you hear “they died for their country”? That’s a lie. Their lives were taken away from them, and they died for their government. Unfortunately, Britain is less safe now since its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

War must be abolished!

Colin Crilly


Private schools a public flaw

Private schools are a means to divide society, giving privilege to one over the other. It starts with children and is immoral and unjust. Democratic societies should abhor and prohibit such practises.

Who is alright with this?

Harry Mulhern

Kilbarrack, Dublin

Irish Water

Irish Water is a derivation of Bord Gais. It is interesting to look at some recent events in that latter company, to see what may be in store for Irish Water.

Bord Gais Energy – which was a constituent part of the main holding company was recently sold to Centrica (UK) – for less than a €1bn.

The sale contained the new Whitegate electricity generating plant, which reportedly cost over €400m to build and was valued in the sale at just over €100m. This write-down was a considerable loss to the taxpayer.

However, Bord Gais awarded themselves over €50m as a result of the sale, money which was split up among some 1,000 employees.

It suffices to take a quote or two from Fr Ted – “down with this sort of thing” and “careful now”.

Donal Deering

Kilkenny city

Having been submerged in the mess of the on-going saga that is Irish Water I have finally waded onto a piece of partial dry land. Still soaking from my Irish Water encounter I began to think aloud to the squelching wet noise of my shoes.

Is it possible that the model being used by Irish Water managing director John Tierney et al to get us to give them our PPS numbers and our money was designed around the Revenue collecting the water charges, as was done with the local property tax (LPT)?

With Revenue behind them it would have been clear sailing all the way, a la the LPT.

Did the Revenue abandon the plan to act a debt collector at the last minute? A situation which left Irish Water ill equipped to collect the water charges?

Either the above is correct or Tierney et al are not as smart as their salaries suggest.

Time to get back in me bath. Ahhhhhh, lovely.

Damien Carroll

Kingswood, Dublin 24

Only in Ireland can you turn water into a whine.

Kevin Devitte

Westport, Co Mayo

Making allowances

In relation to the clothing allowances paid to RTE “stars” – is it not reasonable to assume that someone earning anything from €5,000 to €12,000 a week should be able to buy their own half-decent guna or suit and tie, etc?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont D9

All life must be respected

Colette Browne (October 28) refers to “an inconvenient truth” with pregnant Irish women buying unregulated abortion pills online and the possible adverse side effects they might cause. She also refers to our “draconian” abortion laws, which preclude abortion, except in a minority of cases where a woman’s pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to her life”.

There is another inconvenient truth; that is the existence of the very real human life growing within the woman’s womb, an entity itself, yet like a new-born baby still reliant on its mother for life. The message we should teach those who feel compelled to seek abortion pills online is that all human life is sacred; both the born and the unborn.

Our abortion laws are neither draconian nor merciless; by giving a voice to those who have none they simply respect the sanctity of all human life.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

Irish Independent


October 29, 2014

29 October 2014 Vet

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day off to the vet for the cats vaccinations still some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor won’t answer the phone!

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Marie Dubois – obituary

Marie Dubois was a French New Wave actress who became an unwilling pawn in the rivalry between Truffaut and Godard

Marie Dubois in La Ronde, 1964

Marie Dubois in La Ronde, 1964 Photo: Photoshot/Collection Christophel

5:39PM GMT 28 Oct 2014


Marie Dubois, who has died aged 77, was an actress whose air of vulnerability diluted the ennui of the French New Wave; she appeared in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Une femme est une femme (1961), and became an unwitting pawn in the power play between the two rival directors.

Her debut, in Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960), was to set the tenor of her career. As Léna, the orphan waitress who is hopelessly in love with the titular bar pianist (played by Charles Aznavour), she exudes both sensitivity and stability. Truffaut called the character “the girl with whom one could make a fresh start”. It is not to be — Lena is gunned down by gangsters.

Marie Dubois’s air of innocence, blue eyes and gentle smile were to make her a natural choice for casting agents looking for the embodiment of a fragile woman. It was a fitting observation: while filming Shoot the Piano Player, Marie Dubois experienced the first faint symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a condition that she would battle for the rest of her life.

Truffaut became her mentor during the shoot. He suggested that she adopt a screen name (she was born Claudine Huzé), settling on Marie Dubois after the title of a 1952 novel by Jacques Audiberti. Marie Dubois later claimed that she and Truffaut had fallen in love while filming Shoot the Pianist but that the relationship had always remained platonic. At the time of the shoot Truffaut was married and already had a mistress, the actress Liliane David.

Jean-Luc Godard, however, swiftly took advantage of the situation. “You’ve been acting like a s—,” wrote Truffaut in a letter to Godard. “I knew you had seduced Liliane by telling her ‘Francois doesn’t love you any more, he’s in love with Marie Dubois who’s in his new film,’ and I found that pitiful.” Meanwhile Godard noted: “Every day the women we sleep with separate us more than they bring us together.” Despite the rumours and love spats, Marie Dubois and Truffaut remained friends until the director’s death in 1984.

Claudine Lucie Pauline Huzé was born on January 12 1937 in Paris and studied at L’École nationale supérieure des arts et techniques du théâtre (ENSATT). She began her career on stage, appearing in Molière’s The Misanthrope and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

Truffaut spotted her in the 1959 television series La Caméra explore le temps (“The Camera Explores Time”) and invited her to a screen test. “Imagine you’re a really vulgar fruit peddler,” she was told by the man behind the camera. “Curse me out.” She screwed up her nose: “I’m so embarrassed. It’s awful.”

Marie Dubois with Oskar Werner in Jules et Jim, 1962

Two years after the success of Shoot the Pianist she worked with Truffaut again, on his love-triangle drama Jules et Jim (1962). Playing Thérèse, the anarchic ex-girlfriend of Jules (played by Oskar Werner), she was responsible for one of the film’s most memorable scenes, in which she mimics a steam engine by smoking a cigarette back to front, puffing away on the lit end. In 1961 (the year she took a cameo part in Godard’s Une femme est une femme) Marie Dubois had married the actor Serge Rousseau, another good friend of Truffaut, who would later became an actors’ agent .

Although Marie Dubois worked primarily in supporting roles, her range was broad. She gave the angst of the New Wave milieu a tender heart, working under the direction of Alain Resnais, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim in addition to Godard and Truffaut; but she embraced slapstick comedy and Gallic noir with equal enthusiasm.

Comedies brought her to an international audience. She was the female lead in the wartime farce La Grande Vadrouille (“The Big Runaround”, 1966) which is one of France’s most popular films and appeared in the English language car race caper Monte Carlo or Bust! (1969). In both films she starred opposite Terry-Thomas.

Thrillers, however, provided some of her best parts. In 1978 she played the ill-fated lover of Yves Montand’s chancer in Alain Corneau’s La Menace. The performance won her the best supporting actress award at the 1978 Césars (the French Oscars).

When film roles were sparse she turned to television , much to the disapproval of Truffaut. “I’ve always felt an actor should do television only if he’s forced to,” he said to Serge, advising that his wife would be better occupied writing her memoirs: “Marie will have to learn to be philosophical about those periods when she is ‘resting’.”

In later life Marie Dubois campaigned for awareness of, and care for, people suffering from multiple sclerosis. “I was born in the cinema at the very same time that a little death crept inside me: multiple sclerosis,” she wrote in her memoirs. “The first time it’s like a fleeting shadow glimpsed in the night and that dissipates in daylight. Hardly disturbing. Then, little by little, it began appearing in the light. The shadow took shape. And that shape was my own.”

As her illness worsened, her film appearances became less frequent, although she continued to take small parts during the 1980s and 1990s, most notably in Alain Resnais’s Mon Oncle d’Amérique (1980) and Francis Girod’s Descent into Hell (1986). The latter earned her another César nomination.

She was made a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur in 2002 and an Officier in 2013. Her autobiography, J’ai Pas Menti, J’ai Pas Tout Dit (“I Didn’t Lie, I Didn’t Tell Everything”), was published in 2002.

Serge Rousseau died in 2007, and Marie Dubois is survived by their daughter, the actress Dominique Rousseau.

Marie Dubois, born January 12 1937, died October 15 2014


Green Curly Kale. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown. Green curly kale … a staple of the labouring classes? Photograph: Alamy

When telling the 12th-century legend of the Green Children of Woolpit to primary pupils in Wiltshire, I explained how the adults of Woolpit were frightened when the green children were discovered, but not the children. “I suppose it’s a bit like Ukip,” commented one pupil. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.
Roger Day, storyteller
Wedhampton, Wiltshire

• I believe the Isle of Wight shares with Cumbria the extremely dubious distinction of being an English county that has never had a female MP (There’s a new Sherriff in town, 28 October). Or did I sleep through the independence vote?
Justine Andrews
Ryde, Isle of Wight

• Please could we have Michael Meacher (People need hope, not the Tory austerity tale, Letters, 28 October) for the leader of the Scottish Labour party?
Robert Leach
Selkirk, Scottish Borders

• “Fat idiots are still idiots even when they’re skinny,” writes Stuart Heritage (G2, 28 October) about three public figures who have done nothing more reprehensible than lose weight. Does the Guardian believe that if trolling is done in public, it’s free speech?
Stephen Sedley

• A traditional English folk song suggests curly kale (Letters, passim) was once a staple of the labouring classes:
Ale, ale, glorious ale; dressed up in pewter it tells its own tale. / Some folks likes radishes, some curly kale, / But give I fried onions and a girt dish o’ taters / And a lump of fatty bacon and a pint of good ale.
Ian Thompson
Hinton Parva, Wiltshire

• The dispersal of the remains of the Berlin Wall was certain fast and furious (Report, 28 October).  I remember, only the day after, being offered a choice of pieces of brick and concrete during a lunchtime pint in Bold Street, Liverpool, just round the corner from some demolished flats.
John Boothby

Green Curly Kale. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown. Green curly kale … a staple of the labouring classes? Photograph: Alamy

When telling the 12th-century legend of the Green Children of Woolpit to primary pupils in Wiltshire, I explained how the adults of Woolpit were frightened when the green children were discovered, but not the children. “I suppose it’s a bit like Ukip,” commented one pupil. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.
Roger Day, storyteller
Wedhampton, Wiltshire

• I believe the Isle of Wight shares with Cumbria the extremely dubious distinction of being an English county that has never had a female MP (There’s a new Sherriff in town, 28 October). Or did I sleep through the independence vote?
Justine Andrews
Ryde, Isle of Wight

• Please could we have Michael Meacher (People need hope, not the Tory austerity tale, Letters, 28 October) for the leader of the Scottish Labour party?
Robert Leach
Selkirk, Scottish Borders

• “Fat idiots are still idiots even when they’re skinny,” writes Stuart Heritage (G2, 28 October) about three public figures who have done nothing more reprehensible than lose weight. Does the Guardian believe that if trolling is done in public, it’s free speech?
Stephen Sedley

• A traditional English folk song suggests curly kale (Letters, passim) was once a staple of the labouring classes:
Ale, ale, glorious ale; dressed up in pewter it tells its own tale. / Some folks likes radishes, some curly kale, / But give I fried onions and a girt dish o’ taters / And a lump of fatty bacon and a pint of good ale.
Ian Thompson
Hinton Parva, Wiltshire

• The dispersal of the remains of the Berlin Wall was certain fast and furious (Report, 28 October).  I remember, only the day after, being offered a choice of pieces of brick and concrete during a lunchtime pint in Bold Street, Liverpool, just round the corner from some demolished flats.
John Boothby

Grayson Perry, The Upper Class at bay (detail) Country-house art? Grayson Perry in front of his tapestry, The Upper Class at Bay, 2012, part of The Vanity of Small Differences exhibition. Photograph: Rii Schroer/Rex Features

Your correspondent Pauline Eyre gives the impression of being very determined not to enjoy Grayson Perry’s exhibition The Vanity of Small Differences at Temple Newsam (Letters, 23 October). This is a pity for her, as it is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking shows I have seen for a long time. Bringing it to the country-house museum was a brave and risky decision by the curators and authorities, who – as I could see on my visits – have done everything they can to make it as accessible as possible to everyone, including wheelchair users.

The fact is that Pauline Eyre herself took the decision not to make use of the stair-climber, to refuse kindly help from the trained staff, and objected to waiting for the passenger lift.

In her online letter she described Temple Newsam as “a minor stately home … a bastion of high culture … with poky bedrooms stuffed with furniture and decorative objects belonging to assorted lives from long ago”. This is not only incorrect but frankly insulting to the people of Leeds, who take enormous pride and greatly enjoy this unique country-house art museum. It is one of only two four-star museums in Yorkshire listed by Mark Fisher, former Labour minister for the arts, in his Britain’s Best Museums and Galleries (2004). He described it as “the north’s best kept secret”, and its collections “a triumph”.
James Lomax
Chairman, Leeds Art Fund

Braes of Doune wind farm behind Stirling Castle On an industrial scale in a rural area: the Braes of Doune wind farm affects the view from Stirling Castle, in Perthshire. Photograph: Alamy

What Polly Toynbee didn’t say (This war on windfarms is the Tories’ latest sop to Ukip, 28 October) was that two weeks ago wind generated 25% of Britain’s power. What we should be doing is growing our own indigenous wind turbine industry, as at the moment we import them from mainly Germany and Denmark. A British wind turbine industry would generate much-needed skilled jobs in manufacturing, and improve our balance of payments too.

Britain could be self-sufficient in cheap energy, as we are surrounded by the sea and wind; the risk of being reliant on imported, expensive fossil fuels would be eliminated, with lower industrial costs making us able to export cheaply. As lower electricity costs were passed on to the consumer, this would boost the economy, as people didn’t have to worry about the “second mortgage” that has become the energy price rip-off. Government could legislate that all newbuild housing should have solar panels as standard.

Are we really saying that the country that invented radar, television, antibiotics and the jet engine, among other things – the country of Alan Turing, Tim Berners-Lee and Peter Higgs – cannot grasp the nettle of a new age of affordable, clean energy?

It was once said that the trade unions were luddites for not embracing change; today the real luddites are Eric Pickles, Nigel Farage and the rest of the Tory and Ukip parties.
Alan Quinn
Prestwich, Manchester

• Maybe reactionary populism works by threes. In the US to be a true Republican (as defined by the Tea Party) is to be against gun control, against abortion and against “the climate change lobby”. And, as Polly Toynbee notes, to be a true Tory (as defined by Ukip) is to be against Europe, against immigration and against windfarms.

In fact Ukip has been at the forefront of many local campaigns against wind energy, including the offshore Atlantic Array, but not on the Somerset levels. The campaign against the Ecotricity proposals that Toynbee speaks of has been led by the Huntspill Windfarm Action Group.

Rather than condemn such groups, it is vital to understand the real sense of fear and loss that often underlies what we might otherwise too easily dismiss as nimbyism. For it is the same fear and loss that fuels anti-European and anti-immigrant sentiment. The need to cling to the idea of a timeless British (physical and social) landscape has been a recurring theme of Toryism, and it is this that Ukip now threatens to capture from the Conservatives.
Paul Hoggett
Chair, Climate Psychology Alliance

• Yes, windfarms are political but Polly Toynbee shouldn’t link all opposition to windfarms with climate-change denials. Wind turbines in the right place are a useful part of a mixed energy policy, even though wind power is not particularly clean or cheap once all construction, standby and transmission factors are considered.

There are other reasons for opposing windfarms. They are on an industrial scale, but built mostly in rural areas, and they create only a tiny number of rural jobs. The real money goes to the developer and the (often rich) landowner, paid by customers (including the poor) via subsidies on their energy bills. Whatever Mr Pickles’ reason for calling in appeals, at least it means MPs and councils are now beginning to listen to local opposition.

Come to Northumberland or east Yorkshire and see the damage done to the landscape there, and listen to the outcry from residents, left and right.
Mike Padgett
Sancton, Yorkshire

Peter Connelly, who was known as Baby P until a court order preventing his identification was lifted Peter Connelly, who was known as Baby P until a court order preventing his identification was lifted. Photograph: ITV News/PA Wire

I don’t like the money spent on public inquiries. However, having just watched the BBC documentary on the untold story surrounding the appalling death of Peter Connolly (Watch this, G2, 27 October), the public needs to understand just how brutal and manipulative are the attempts to scapegoat social workers for our endemic social problems. In this case there was an orchestrated campaign by the Sun (under Rebekah Brooks) to target the social workers and locum doctor involved in the case, all quickly themselves becoming the tragic victims of a contemporary witch-hunt.

The evil resulting from this is that the strain on all the services involved escapes attention, as those with a huge burden of work in the frontline of patching up society’s ills are punished rather than supported. The performance of David Cameron in making political capital out of the tragedy (at the time briefed by his “political adviser” Andy Coulson) was hugely significant in this modern tragedy, as were the panicked reactions of Ed Balls and the rushed report of Ofsted. After this disgraceful farce of wrongful blame (the spokespeople for the police and the NHS happy to tolerate, if not encourage, the misleading targeting of the social workers), the right questions are still being ignored.

How better to support our frontline social workers is the issue. Even as the brave and compassionate Sharon Shoesmith kept trying to talk about what was needed to protect children (and damaged mothers) on Newsnight, Evan Davis continued with the lazy routine of personal blame. Given there was never even an inquest into Peter’s death, a public inquiry might at least make more people aware of the evils of these bullying diversions, perhaps as well highlighting how much more vulnerable professional women are to being scapegoated than men in similar positions of responsibility. There are so many social, political and ethical issues here, which a public inquiry might begin to flush out.
Professor Lynne Segal
Birkbeck College, University of London

'The network of services provided by TGV trains is very extensive – it serves 230 destinations, desp ‘The network of services provided by TGV trains is very extensive – it serves 230 destinations, despite the fact that there are only five high-speed routes. That is its strength – it offers a network of services between all major French cities and most of the country’s rail-served towns.’ Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

There are indeed lessons to be drawn for HS2 and HS3 from the report on the TGV in France by the French audit office (France’s ‘incoherent’ TGV network fails to live up to high-speed promise, 27 October). The report has been used to suggest that the TGV network is “running out of steam”. The report appears to justify this opinion by presenting a headline statistic that states that 40% of journey times on TGVs are spent on non-high-speed routes. The strength of high-speed trains is to cover distance. Given that the average speed of a TGV on a high-speed line is nearly three times that on a conventional route, the distance travelled on conventional lines is only around 10% or 15% of the total distance travelled. Lesson one – beware the misuse of numbers to support a politically motivated argument.

The network of services provided by TGV trains is very extensive – it serves 230 destinations, despite the fact that there are only five high-speed routes. That is its strength – it offers a network of services between all major French cities and most of the country’s rail-served towns. It does this by trains that serve a small number of major centres and then run seamlessly on to conventional lines, something that will not be achieved by the dead-end terminal stations proposed for HS2 in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The adoption of terminal stations will reduce the frequency of services between individual pairs of cities. It will also waste capacity on the high-speed line because of the need to provide separate medium-distance point-to-point services, such as Birmingham to Manchester. Lesson two – high-speed lines must be designed to allow the operation of frequent, regular-interval train services that are fully integrated into public transport networks, and not just to provide point-to-point services like an airline.
Greg Haigh
Dorking, Surrey

Migrants sit in a boat off the coast of Sicily during a mission by the Italian navy as part of its M Migrants sit in a boat off the coast of Sicily during a mission by the Italian navy as part of its Mare Nostrum rescue operation, which is due to end this week. Photograph: Marina Militare/Handout/Reuters

I am horrified to read that our government will no longer support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, claiming that rescue missions “simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing” (UK accused over migrant rescue plan, 28 October). Have we lost our sense of common humanity? Are we to isolate ourselves to such an extent that we are unable or unwilling to reach out to our fellow human beings? These people find themselves in such dire difficulties that they see no choice but to take to the high seas and risk their lives in vessels that are woefully inadequate. Let us not forget that our government acts in our name and that each of us is implicated in this act of barbaric selfishness.
Anish Kapoor

• Perhaps there is a link between ministers’ plan to let people drown, on the basis that rescuing them only encourages others, and government benefits policy, as outlined in Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (Today’s Britain: where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks, 28 October), illustrating how the government let people drown in their poverty on the basis that this callousness is some kind of disincentive to joblessness and a spur to others to find work.

These two articles illustrate that the same repugnant casual disregard for human lives pervades government policy, whether it is benefits claimants, the working poor, the environment, or desperate migrants: literally, sink or swim.
Miles Halpin
Wirksworth, Derbyshire

• Tuesday’s Guardian front page was inspiring, with the story about Dean Balboa Farley running into the prime minister (Police under fire after PM hit by jogger, 28 October) appearing under the one about the government’s refusal to support a Mediterranean rescue mission. I was happy to imagine that Mr Farley was seeking to make a citizen’s arrest of David Cameron for bringing the UK into disrepute, rather than jogging to the gym.
Jan Dubé
Peebles, Scottish Borders

• According to the Home Office, rescuing migrants from boats in the Mediterranean acts as a “pull factor” in encouraging more people to try this desperate route. I’m surprised they haven’t followed their own logic, and employed the Royal Navy to sail around the Med sinking migrants’ boats: that would certainly reduce the flow of would-be migrants.

Oh dear, I’m not sure I should have suggested that, as there must be people in the government who would actually think this a serious suggestion, worth following up.
Dr Richard Carter

• I expect soon to see the disbanding of the ambulance services sent to crash scenes, the cancellation of mountain rescue teams, and the banning of first-aid teams at football matches, all of which have the deplorable “pull factor” of encouraging people to crash their cars into each other, stand under avalanches, and break their own legs playing football.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

• Saving people’s lives sends out the wrong message? Did someone turn the lights of civilisation out?
Stefan Wickham
Oxted, Surrey

• So, our government thinks that allowing a few hundred more fleeing migrants to drown will act as a deterrent to others following. We’re an island nation with an absolute duty to “those in peril on the sea”. I am ashamed to be British.
Ken Cordingley
Williton, Somerset

• I shouldn’t be surprised. The government’s refusal to support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean because they encourage refugees to risk their lives is consistent with all its other welfare policies: benefits discourage the disabled from getting out of their wheelchairs and so on.

But the callous ignorance of this “quietly announced” decision fills me with anger. Why does the government think that the number of people attempting this desperate and expensive voyage has doubled to more than 160,000 in the first nine months of this year? No doubt the 90,000 that have been fished out of the water by the Italian government’s Mare Nostrum operation so far this year embarked on their crossing happy in the knowledge they’d be rescued when their ramshackle crafts sank. Those 500, many children among them, who were recently murdered by people smugglers when they refused to transfer to an unseaworthy vessel were just the unlucky few, mere drops in the ocean.

The doubling of numbers fleeing Syria, Gaza, Somalia, Libya and other devastated countries of the region is because these people have lost their homes, their jobs, their families. The politics of these upheavals is complex, but for Britain to wash its hands of a situation for which it bears some responsibility is squalid. I look forward, without much hope, to Labour and the Lib Dems challenging and denouncing this cold-blooded decision.
Rod Edmond
Deal, Kent

Park Honan Park Honan lectured at the University of Sussex

As a result of Park Honan’s inspirational teaching of American literature, I went to the University of Sussex to do a Master’s in American studies.

I still have vivid memories of Honan’s lecture on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, delivered in the style of a Hollywood film producer assessing the possibilities of making a film of the novel. It was a brilliant performance, and one that truly engaged his students.

In seminars, he had the happy knack of allowing the conversation to ramble along, and then, with one or two adroit interventions, lifting the understanding to a more fulfilling level.

For some reason he would often turn to me when the discussion was flagging, and in the kindest tone say: “Well, Turner, what d’you think?” Eventually I would ready myself for his question, the result being I became better prepared for his seminars than I might have been.

To me, he was a breath of fresh air in the lecture hall, and there was always intellectual rigour in seminar and tutorial. What a combination!

I feel very privileged to have been taught by him.

Ukip europe britain Does Britain have a contradictory attitude to Europe? Photograph: Gillian Blease

Britain’s role in Europe

José Manuel Barroso’s comments on the UK’s relationship with the EU highlight the longstanding contradiction in English attitudes to its neighbours (24 October). On the one hand, it is not all right for Brussels to maintain collective jurisdiction over British affairs, but it is all right for London to maintain collective jurisdiction over Scottish affairs. The clamour south of the border to keep the union shortly before the Scottish referendum stands in sharp contrast to the will to respect the other union we have, with Europe.

When you join a club, you expect to respect commonly accepted rules. This is true for Britain in the EU now, as it was in 1707 when Scotland joined England and Wales.

If Westminster wants power to return to Britain, then it is perfectly logical for Scots to want power to return to Scotland. I am not sure that has been perfectly understood south of the border.
Trevor Rigg
Edinburgh, UK

• Not so long ago, a local was complaining to me about so-called immigrants who had come to take advantage of the host country’s generous benefits. There were so many of them, she complained, that their foreign-language dominated conversations in the school playground.

The complainant was French, the so-called immigrants British. I’m not sure that David Cameron has thought through all the consequences of his latest knee-jerk reaction to Ukip.
Simon Coates
Brussels, Belgium

• When David Cameron claims that he can renegotiate the rules regarding European immigration, a representative of the EU asserts that the free movement of labour is an integral part of the Common Market. And that is the whole trouble, and I wouldn’t bet on Cameron being able to change it. But it is nonsense.

The free movement of tomatoes and washing machines across European borders is one thing: they are merely commodities to be bought and sold. The free movement of labour is a qualitatively different thing. People have families and relationships; they need somewhere to live; they travel; they need access to doctors and hospitals; their children need schools.

We already have a home-grown baby boom to cope with, but in addition we have thousands of people arriving every year from abroad, mostly from Europe, whose needs have to be met as well. It cannot go on.

No wonder Nigel Farage and Ukip are raking in the votes. It is not about keeping out the foreigners; it is not racism or any other form of discrimination. It is simply about the number of people on a small island and the rate at which we can absorb and provide for more. It has to slow down or stop.
Martin Down
Witney, UK

• Regarding Jonathan Freedland’s piece on Dad’s Army (17 October): Nigel Farage evokes a bygone Britain that would have been instantly recognisable to William Faulkner. In writing stories of the defeated south, he used to comment, “The past is present.”

Growing up in California, land of the future, I never understood this until my visiting southern aunt “explained” sotto voce that the family lost their money a century ago “after buying Confederate bonds”: this turned out to be rubbish, but so much more entertaining – and enduring– than the truth. I hope events will prove us able to forget Farage as a flash in the pan. Meanwhile, how about a Steve Bell cartoon? You know, with pan.
Linda Agerbak
Arlington, Massachusetts, US

• Jonathan Freedland wheels out “the foundation stone of British Euroscepticism”, ie “that memory of standing alone against the Nazi menace”. May I remind him and lots of other Brits that there was a second army, the Brits’ first non-empire allies: namely, the Polish army that had regrouped in Scotland after defeat in Poland and being let down in France? My father was a captain in that army. After D-day they landed along with the Canadians and made their way to Bremerhaven. The officers were advised not to go back to Poland after the war, which accounts, incidentally, for my birth in Glasgow, along with other Scottish/Polish kids.
Richard Duda
Villers-les-Nancy, France

IMF and global recovery

So, according to the IMF, recovery is being driven by the US and the UK (17 October). Pity that the facing page informs us that real earnings of British workers have decreased for seven years in a row (Pay squeeze worst since Victorian age). Am I missing something? Or is this an accurate definition of the IMF’s priorities?
Giorgio Ranalli
Ottawa, Canada

No wonder that global economic growth may never recover to pre-crisis levels, as warned by the IMF. The crisis was caused by our living beyond our means, spending, not investing, with banks and others looking for borrowers only to increase levels of personal debt.
Adrian Betham
London, UK

The real risk of Ebola

Not to sound hysterical, but am I the only person seeing a huge disconnect between the headline Ebola spreads a global warning (10 October) and the subheading Experts say flu outbreak would pose a bigger risk, accompanied by a photograph of health workers in full Hazmat gear?

If the disease is less difficult to contract than the flu, I should have thought that rubber gloves and a surgical face mask would be enough protection. But then in the same Guardian issue we are told there are five Ebola cases every hour in Sierra Leone, with a prediction of 10 per hour before the end of October. Doesn’t sound like a low-level risk to me.
Rhona Davies
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Which American values?

Regarding the situation in northern Iraq-Syria, the patent failure of the war the US started in 2003 is more obvious than ever. But after the policies that brought such destabilisation and mayhem, the US has some responsibilities there and cannot simply turn its back and look away from the barbaric (or any other adjective) deeds committed by Isis.

By the way, I haven’t read anything lately about Guantánamo. Yes, remember those 130 or so prisoners still held captive, some for more than 12 years, without trial or even charges and force fed when on hunger strike? A really barbaric (or any adjective you prefer) situation indeed. In his speeches, Barack Obama always refers to the “American values” and “who we are”. Really, by releasing at last the Guantánamo prisoners, the US Congress would show more against barbarism than air strikes which, when they kill five jihadis, 50 new fighters are sent in (17 October).
Marc Jachym
Les Ulis, France

Threats to the planet

Even if leaders from every nation united and built a space-age defence system that could protect every city on Earth from a meteorite impact, it would only highlight how complacent they’ve been about tackling threats to life on this planet (17 October). Asteroid impacts are rare and inevitable, as Peter Jenniskens points out; on the other hand, taking steps to protect humans from each other, and the planet from humans, is a realistic and necessary goal.

The world’s leaders cannot seem to deal with reality or necessity very well, though. I suspect that’s because doing so would require them to be realistic about the impact of their own ambitions, which are a far greater threat to human survival than any meteorite could be.
A Elliott
Berlin, Germany


• As a CNES project scientist, I was very pleased to read the short science article (17 October) entitled Satellite map of sea floor. However, as specified in the acknowledgments of the original Science article, two satellite altimeter missions were used to enhance the new sea floor maps: CryoSat-2 data was provided by the European Space Agency, and Jason-1 data by Nasa and the French space agency, CNES.

Indeed, on the CNES side, we worked very hard with all of the different scientific communities to find an orbit that provided excellent new observations of the sea floor, and continued to make regular observations of the ocean dynamics. So it was a bit galling that our long partnership with Nasa for the Jason series was not correctly specified.
Rosemary Morrow
Toulouse, France

• Referring to the “state-owned” SaskPower International is wrong (10 October), as in Canada we do not have “states”. It should have read “provincial/government owned”, as we have provinces in this country.
Janet Downey
Manotick, Ontario, Canada

• I enjoy my Guardian Weekly, not least because of its careful political correctness. So you will understand my dismay to read Stephen Moss’s glorification of the Dull Men’s Club (10 October). He missed the big story and entirely ignored the tough questions: are women members permitted? Is there a Ladies Auxiliary? When will the name be changed to The Dull Persons Club? Seems this article slipped through the Guardian’s PC screen.
Bob Walsh
Wilton, Connecticut, US


Coming from a former minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, Michael Fallon’s comments at the weekend were as surprising as they were misguided.

There are those who would agree there are areas in the UK that have been negatively impacted by immigration. However from a business perspective, migrant workers are playing a vital role in holding our economy together.

The simple fact is there isn’t enough skilled labour in the UK at the moment, and people haven’t grasped what this means for industry. Logistics is a prime example, where we are facing the worst driver shortage in living memory. We’re approaching Christmas, the busiest period of the year, and if we didn’t have skilled foreign drivers to plug the gap, we’d be facing the very real possibility of logistics businesses grinding to a halt.

As a large UK haulier, it is the responsibility of companies like ours to find a long-term solution to this challenge, and we hope the nationwide apprenticeship scheme we’ve just launched will go some way to doing that. But it’s going to take time, and until then we need European workers to keep Britain moving – Michael Fallon would do well to remember that.

Andrew Downton, Managing director, CM Downton



As the Prime Minister, surely it is David Cameron’s duty to officially tell his ignorant “little Englanders” that free movement in Europe is good for the country. It benefits our ambitious young and our employers who have jobs our citizens do not like doing. And also explain to them how the monies to and from the countries are adjusted to help those in most need. If this is too difficult for their understanding perhaps he could organise classes run by primary school teachers.

Rosemary Morton



So Michael Fallon comes out with a statement that parts of the UK risk being swamped by the lack of control of immigration, then suddenly, because of a few eyebrows being raised and no doubt a word in his ear, he back-peddles. The people who objected to what he said were obviously from the higher ranks of society whose areas will not be overrun. The problem is not only immigrants but illegal immigrants.

We have not a clue how many there actually are in the country, but so far the Prime Minister has no answer to any of the problems created by Europe.

Why does he keep promising “after the next election”? He is in charge now.

Dave Croucher



Binbury and Thurnham got there first!

I was most interested to read the article about sound mirrors (report, 28 October). Research undertaken prior to publishing my book Bearsted and Thurnham in Two World Wars 1914-1918, 1939-1945 (2014) revealed the following information:

An experimental form of a sound mirror was indeed constructed in 1915 but not at Detling Aerodrome in Kent. Trials actually took place on farmland at Binbury, in the parish of Thurnham. The site of the aerodrome is also located in Thurnham, but records in the National Archives show officials believed Detling was the nearest village. There are also early references to “Maidstone aerodrome” in the records.

For the trials, Professor Mather of the City and Guilds Engineering College in South Kensington, arranged for a sound mirror, approximately 16 feet in diameter, to be constructed at Binbury.

A section of the vertical chalk cliff face was hollowed out to an almost spherical shape but tilted upwards, and a sound collector was mounted on a pivot at the focal point. Despite the close proximity of the aerodrome, the aircraft used in the tests were flown in from other locations.

The subsequent report said that a concrete reflector would probably be better than chalk as the reflecting surface would be harder. Later experiments carried out at different locations included Dover and Wiltshire and involved sound mirrors lined with concrete. The performance of these concrete mirrors was sufficiently successful in detecting aircraft that they assisted defensive measures during air raids in 1917 and 1918.

All of these experiments were forerunners of the technology which would ultimately lead to the development and successful deployment of radar in the Second World War.

I quite agree with Keith Parfitt’s sentiments that the Dover sound mirrors will be a real point of interest for visitors when fully excavated and exposed, but Binbury in Thurnham got there first!

Kathryn Kersey



I would like to correct your statement that “little is known about the origins of the mirrors”. The Hythe (Kent) Civic Society published a book in 1999, titled Echoes From the Sky, written by a local author, Richard N Scarth, which is the history of the mirrors. The society has recently reprinted it with some additional material.

Alan Joyce , Treasurer, Hythe Civic Society



Women and early motherhood

It is suggested that freezing women’s eggs gives women more choice about a suitable time to have children. I would like to suggest that encouraging women to have children younger would also give them more choice.

Young women have, in recent years, been discouraged from marrying or having children in their late teens and early twenties, and encouraged to work towards a career and/or a “girls just want to have fun” lifestyle.

It is well known that these are the most fertile years. If women were encouraged to have children younger they could still pursue their education and a career later in their twenties, but with the maturity and experience of parenthood. Several couples I know have successfully embraced this life choice. This idea would of course need the support of affordable housing and childcare.

Nikki Bennett

West Kirby


Feminists don’t want to damn males

If Yasmin Alibhai-Brown thinks “the feminist instinct is to damn males, not to understand them” (column, 27 October) then she doesn’t understand feminism.

Actually we want to damn the system of organisation of our society, which we call “Patriarchy”. Feminists have demonstrated how it damages men when they are boys. Of course Muslims live under the patriarchal system too, in fact patriarchy and monotheism are brothers.

Please, anyone who believes feminists hate men, read an actual feminist text. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is an excellent starter. Sadly it’s all still relevant today, despite the “great strides” Yasmin mentions.

Henrietta Cubitt


Red tape and the right to vote

Changes in the system of compiling the electoral register have certainly  caused problems (report, 28 October).

My wife and I have lived at our present address for 28 years, been on the electoral register throughout and voted at every election. As always, I completed and returned the application form for our inclusion on the new register within a day of its arrival.

Last week, my wife received a letter from the county council, stating that her application could not be processed as details could not be matched against official records.

To rectify the situation, she was instructed to provide one of a series of alternative documents. At 81, she no longer holds a driving licence or passport and all utility bills are in my name so she cannot meet any of the requirements as they stand. A certificate of police bail is one acceptable means of identification but she has not, so far, qualified for one of these.

Of course, if failure to supply required proof to the local authority on time  is an offence that entitles the culprit to such bail, the problem should solve itself.

There must be many other elderly people worried by this ill-thought out process.

David Bridgeman-Sutton

Dinham, Shropshire


Undercover police are not guilty of rape

In answer to John Crocker’s letter (27 October) regarding whether a police officer pretending to share the views and activities of a woman is sufficient fraud to negate her consent to sex, I can inform him that such trickery would be insufficient to negate consent. Under UK law fraud can only negate consent if the man is pretending to be another man the woman knows – for example he pretends to be the woman’s husband or his identical twin brother.

Simply pretending to have the same interests as a woman is not sufficient to negate consent; nor is making false claims about your income, social status, or how passionate a lover you are.

Thomas Wiggins



Why £60 will become the cost of sanity

Will it cost £60 now to be declared “mens sana”? Always take at least £60 when you go to your GP. Then if there’s an auction you’ll be able to outbid the Secretary of State’s offer of £55 to diagnose a case of dementia.

John Mann




Sir, Bravo to you for allowing Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Williams, a brave man indeed, to reveal the tactical military and political mistakes made in Helmand as well as the systemic failures of our command system (“Our failure in Afghanistan must be exposed”, Oct 28). If one adds to this the political and military factors prevalent when intervention was decided upon, such as the personal nature of political decision-making, the internal military tensions, the failure to observe the historical lessons of intervention in Afghanistan — which surely the Foreign Office was pressing at the time — and the absence of an exit strategy, then Lt-Col Williams’ calls for a Chilcot-type investigation need to be heeded. Of course they won’t be.
Evan Davies
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

Sir, We do not need a Chilcot-style inquiry to reflect that history and geography predicts that military conquest of Afghanistan is impossible. The real lesson that can be learnt from our latest attempt to defy the odds is that political, economic and social progress will be achieved only through education. Educational opportunity should be the legacy which we must continue to support and protect through aid. Without military intervention this would not be possible, and it was not in vain.
Bernard Kingston
Biddenden, Kent

Sir, After the Afghanistan retreat there remains one sublime reason for eternal pride. It is the courage and tenacity shown by small units occupying isolated outposts. The gallantry and sacrifice was such that not one forward operating base was overrun. Those soldiers fought on two fronts, against the Taliban and against the politicians at home. History will record admiration for those heroes at the sharp end. The names of their deluded “leadership” will reek in ignominy.
Hugh Charles Jones
Dinas Cross, Pembrokeshire

Sir, It beggars belief that we can spend nearly £40 billion on a futile campaign in Afghanistan (yet again) but cannot leave any kind of memorial to the brave fallen. Was there ever a more pointless or ill thought out campaign in British military history?
Andrew Livesey
Latimer, Bucks

Sir, To say that we failed in Afghanistan and that the loss of lives was futile is not really the point. We saw a great evil — the Taliban — and all they were doing, and we tried to do something about it. The alternative was to do nothing, which is not really an option. When will we realise that success and failure are not the opposite sides of a great divide, not sharply defined? For those who lost the people they loved, the idea that the campaign was all in vain must be unbearable. To try and then to fail is not a failure. To be afraid of failure and therefore not to try at all: now that really is failure.
Robin Stemp

Sir, Predictions that the Ministry of Defence could face 7.5 per cent cuts in its funding will be of concern to service personnel and their families. The army is emerging from a four-year redundancy programme and soldiers continue to have reduced income after years of pay restraint. The mood across forces’ families is low — we are not unscathed.

Previous defence cuts were made in an era of the planned exit from Afghanistan and claims that “there is no appetite for war”, but the emergence of Isis, developments in eastern Europe and the use of troops to deal with ebola demonstrate the need for a strong and agile defence force. There is no room for further cuts if we are to retain and recruit our soldiers and the families who support them.
Catherine Spencer
Chief executive, Army Families Federation

Sir, Can those debating the merits of HS3 stop referring to Manchester as the north? Yes it’s north of London, but 107 miles south of Tyneside.
Michael Pearson
Ashington, Northumberland

Sir, I read with interest that the taxman had paid out £400,000 last year to informants who gave tip-offs about tax dodgers (Oct 27). While this may be a clear benefit to HMRC, what is not clear is whether any such payment should be tax deductible.
Clarence Barrett
Upminster, Essex

Sir, Your picture of the Bush family (Times2, Oct 28) reminded me of how well Stephen Sondheim summed up vast presidential families in Merrily We Roll Along. On stage is a similar line-up, this time of the Kennedys, and the song includes, “. . . Till half of the nation’s / made up of relations / of Bobby and Jackie and Jack / And Ethel and Ted and Eunice and Pat and Joan / And Steve and Peter and Jean and Sarge / And Joe and Rose and rows and rows and rows and rows and rows . . .”.
David Simons
Bakewell, Derbyshire

Sir, During the early 1960s when I worked at Fairey Aviation developing tip jet units for the Rotodyne convertiplane, we needed a quiet room (“Britain’s quietest room”, Oct 25). Foam cones were too costly so notices were put on the factory gates requesting egg boxes. Within a few days we had sufficient boxes to make a very good quiet room. The Rotodyne was cancelled and Fairey Aviation taken over by Westland but the noise section, complete with egg boxes, was bought by Rolls-Royce for work on silencers for jet engines.
Jim Schofield
Sherborne, Dorset

Sir, We represent 30 leading manufacturers and together we employ nearly 45,000 people. This is the first time that we — as a group — have commented publicly on the need to develop shale gas in the northwest of England. We believe that exploiting the potential of this new energy is vital for Britain.

More than 800,000 people work in energy-intensive industries and their supply chains, contributing £95 billion to the UK economy. These businesses are the bedrock of our manufacturing sector. Taking advantage of shale gas is particularly critical for the northwest of England, which stands to gain the most from a thriving onshore energy industry.

Exploiting shale could lead to cheaper gas prices or at least stabilise costs for business. We call on all mainstream party leaders to put aside politics and support the extraction of natural gas from Lancashire shale.

Janet Thornton, Managing Director, Inspired Energy PLC

Babs Murphy, Chief Executive, North & Western Lancashire Chambers of Commerce

Mike Damms, chief executive, East Lancashire Chambers of Commerce

Jeremy Nicholson, director, Energy Intensive Users Group

Debbie Baker, head of public affairs, GrowHow

David Workman, director, Confederation of Paper Industries

Anthony Flinn, managing director, HCF

Alex Patrick-Smith, managing director, Hinton Perry & Davenhill Ltd

Mike Shirley, managing director, Hudsons of England Ltd

Stan Higgins, chief executive officer, NEPIC

Mike McGee, director, Cardigan Sand & Gravel Co Ltd

Christopher Walmsley, director, Daedalian Glass Ltd

Gary McGann, group chief executive officer, Smurfit Kappa Group PLC

Agnes Colhoun, managing director, Allglass Reprocesors (UK) Ltd

Stephen Pollock-Hill, chairman and managing director, Nazeing Glass Works Ltd

Allan Laing, chief executive officer, Pentagon Chemicals

Ian Stark, chief executive officer, Chemoxy International Ltd

Graham Payne, executive secretary, Briar Technical Services Ltd

Piers Grummett, plant manager, Stoelzle Flaconnage Ltd

Robert Tyler, managing supervisor, Rhodia UK Ltd/ Solvay Group

Tony Bastock, group managing director, Contract Chemicals Ltd


A dedicated freight line from Liverpool to Hull could relieve the M62

6:56AM GMT 28 Oct 2014


SIR – Never mind HS3 – the North needs a dedicated freight line from Liverpool to Hull, using the kind of shuttle trains that go through the Channel Tunnel. With four interchange points at or close to the A1(M), the M1, the M60 and the M6 or M62, this could relieve the North’s biggest road bottleneck: the M62.

With fast, regular trains and a financial incentive to hauliers to use it, such a line would be more useful than shaving a few minutes off a passenger journey across the Pennines.

Bill Jolly

SIR – Britain used to have a third main line railway, called the Great Central Main Line, which served the East Midlands and South Yorkshire from London Marylebone station, terminating at Manchester London Road station (now called Manchester Piccadilly).

It was opened in 1899, but in the Sixties the government of the day, on the recommendation of Dr Richard Beeching, closed it, because it was considered unnecessary to have a third north-to-south main line.

Paul Helmn
Charnock Richard, Lancashire

Some readers who have given up on Radio 3 have found solace in cyberland

The internet is allowing listeners to venture further afield for their classical fix

The internet is allowing listeners to venture further afield for their classical fix

6:58AM GMT 28 Oct 2014


SIR – I, too, have given up Radio 3. Thanks to the wonders of the internet I’m tuned to Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Classic FM, which offers understated and intelligent announcers, short news summaries, no advertisements, and lovely music.

John Auber
London SW13

SIR – I recommend listening to Rete Toscana Classica online: wonderful music and few interruptions (which are, of course, in Italian).

David Nunn
Port Isaac, Cornwall

Brand recognition

SIR – I doubt that Russell Brand’s popularity is at the expense of Ed Miliband, as Boris Johnson says. Mr Miliband has been found out as simply useless, while Brand is a freakish novelty.

I can’t fathom why people think Brand hides a sweetness beneath the bravado. The cruel way he humiliated Andrew Sachs in 2008 was outrageous. It says a lot about the modern BBC that they still give Brand a platform for his gibbering.

Alasdair Ogilvy
Stedham, West Sussex


SIR – A future leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be an elected member of the Holyrood Parliament, not a Miliband lackey appointed by his Westminster cronies.

Terry Duncan
Bridlington, East Yorkshire

EU club rules

SIR – To say a gentleman should play by the rules of the club he has joined misses the point. Those who voted to stay in the Common Market were deceived as to the true nature of the club.

The correct response for a gentleman, when he finds the club he has joined is in fact a strip club, is politely to leave.

Michael Morris
Little Wratting, Suffolk

Tweeting gloves

SIR – It was great to see the Queen sending her first Tweet, but she had to take her gloves off. Why didn’t someone take her to M&S to buy some touch-screen gloves?

Cynthia Denby
Edgware, Middlesex

Doctors should exercise their right to cut their workload

'Staggering' rise in prescribing of anti-depressants

Doctors most prescribe medicine at intervals “in line with the medically appropriate need of the patient” Photo: Alamy

6:59AM GMT 28 Oct 2014


SIR – I am fed up with the monthly ritual of ordering my prescription, collecting it and then getting the drugs from the local pharmacy. Doctors could cut the time, money and energy spent, by them and their patients, by prescribing three months’ worth of drugs at once.

The Department of Health recommends that prescribing intervals should be “in line with the medically appropriate need of the patient”.

My wife and I have been on the same mild medication for well in excess of 20 years. Doctors: do yourselves a favour, talk to your patients and exercise your right to cut your workload.

G A Tizzard
Liskeard, Cornwall

SIR – An understandable reluctance to press through NHS reform has led to competitive bidding by the political parties for financial support to “save the NHS”. Extra money in the past has led to no significant improvement, and further funds will not address the problems. These include declining productivity (the number of patients treated per doctor employed) and loss of an incentive to higher standards of clinical care, such as weekend and night-time care, both at home and in hospital.

GPs work long hours because administrative and public-health duties have been imposed upon them. Hospital doctors have lost control of their specialties to managers, who impose working directives such as waiting-time initiatives and bed-occupancy targets. These are divorced from the clinical needs of the patient, which should always be paramount.

If public health services – such as vaccinations and prenatal or postnatal obstetrics – were separated from clinical care, GP work overload would be reduced. This would allow reorganisation by commissioners to provide weekend and night-time cover.

Hospital doctors must be given back the responsibility for each patient under their named care, working the hours and at the speed necessary to fulfil the needs of these patients.

Dr R B Godwin-Austen
Retired Consultant Neurologist
Southwell, Nottinghamshire

SIR – In the committee stage of the Medical Innovation Bill in the Lords, Lord Saatchi emphasised that he had listened to other points of views, and yet Earl Howe, the health minister, dismissed almost all the proposed amendments. Clearly, there is more work to be done to deal with concerns expressed by other peers, notably those with a medical background.

The article by Peter Oborne and Anne Williams framed fears about the Bill perfectly. Not a single doctors’ representative body could point to fear of litigation inhibiting doctors from innovating. There are lots of real issues that retard the progress of innovation – but the cornerstone of this Bill, fear of litigation, is not one of them.

Why is parliamentary time being spent in trying to solve a problem that does not exist by removing patient protection?

I hope now the sensible amendments put forward by several peers – notably Lord Turnberg and Lord Winston – will get the thorough examination they deserve.

Darren Conway
London WC2

Would the world be a different place if divisive military intervention had been avoided?

The Union flag is lowered by Capt Matthew Clark, left, and WO John Lilley at Camp Bastion

The Union flag is lowered by Capt Matthew Clark, left, and WO John Lilley at Camp Bastion Photo: PA

7:00AM GMT 28 Oct 2014


SIR – As the long-awaited withdrawal from Afghanistan becomes a reality, it is worth reflecting on the horrendous toll of lives that have been damaged or destroyed by the determination of Donald Rumsfeld to ignore what might have been the wisest words of General Colin Powell, on September 12 2001.

Powell advised that capitalising on the extraordinary unification of the world in the wake of the September 11 atrocity, through stealth, intelligence and global exclusion, was the way to contain terrorism, rather than by inevitably divisive military intervention.

Thirteen years later, one can only be in awe of the contribution made by many thousands of gallant service personnel, but wonder whether the world would have been a significantly different place if Powell’s wisdom had prevailed over Rumsfeld’s hawkishness.

Lt Col Charles Holden (retd)
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – Attention has focused on the Army’s part in Afghanistan. Yet the Royal Navy has for long periods provided Royal Marines, Fleet Air Arm and others amounting to more than 50 per cent of the British forces.

Captain Matthew Clark, shown above lowering the flag at Camp Bastion, is a Royal Navy captain.

N L Stewart
Droxford, Hampshire

SIR – The military has done its duty. The politicians have again failed. This is the fourth Afghan war with no gains. The Taliban are stronger and poppy-growing is at a record level. Internecine feuding and self-interest climb the vortex of corruption.

How will the political class spin this one, particularly to the families who grieve and the maimed and injured soldiers?

James Bishop
Gisla, Isle of Lewis

SIR – If the enormous sums shovelled into the war in Afghanistan had been used to strengthen British immigration controls to the point of excellence, could we sleep safer in our beds?

Warren Page
Purley on Thames, Berkshire

SIR – Will the pension rights of those lions whom James Kirkup praises be anything like those of the donkeys in question? If not, why not? I ask as one who truly wants to know. British justice should demand no less.

Teresa Baldwinson
London NW7

Irish Times:

Sir, – Green Party leader and former minister for energy Eamon Ryan challenges me (October 28th) to clarify my views on several aspects of Irish energy and climate change policy. He writes: “Perhaps Colm McCarthy could help by clarifying if he accepts the scientific consensus that tackling climate change will require us to build a completely clean power system within a few short decades.”

There is indeed a scientific consensus, which a quick Google search would show me to have acknowledged repeatedly, that excessive greenhouse gas emissions need to be curtailed. Mr Ryan appears to believe that this consensus extends to the construction of a “completely clean power system”, whatever that might mean. I am not aware of any such consensus. The scientific consensus is that emissions need to be curtailed. The most cost-effective means to that end has been extensively studied and consensus is elusive.

He continues: “If he does accept that assumption then he needs to show how he would do so without having recourse to additional wind power”. My preference would be for a global carbon tax pitched at a level sufficient to attain the needed emission reduction. This tax would be technology-neutral, and not prescriptive about wind or any other elixir.

The next query is “ . . . why does he not argue for the closure of the peat-fired power stations which are more expensive and polluting than the wind farm alternative?”

The peat-fired stations are indeed egregious emitters and I have (Google again) argued for their decommissioning for aeons.

Why did Mr Ryan not do something about them when he was minister for energy?

It has not been demonstrated that further wind capacity on the Irish system is a cost-effective contribution to the pressing problem of climate change. It is disheartening that Mr Ryan seeks to imply that critics of the wind bonanza are unconcerned about the climate threat.

Has the Green Party been sold a pup by the wind energy lobby? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – As if all the rain this morning was not depressing enough, the picture in your Business + Your Money supplement (“Tilting at windmills”, October 28th) of the wonderful view of Mount Errigal, Dunlewey and the Poison Glen in Co Donegal being ruined by a massive wind turbine had me choking on my breakfast cereal. – Yours, etc,



Co Antrim.

Sir, – Unicef’s report reveals shocking and frankly shameful data for Ireland (“Irish child poverty ranked near bottom after recession increase”, October 28th).

We knew that during the recession the number of children living in poverty increased, but this report shows just how huge a step backwards we have taken.

Ireland’s children have lost a full decade of progress (only Greece is worse at 14 years). The increase in the rate of children living in income poverty, from 18 per cent in 2008 to 28.6 per cent in 2012, puts Ireland in the bottom five worst countries. And tellingly, the family experience of poverty and poverty related stress is also worse in Ireland than nearly everywhere else (only three countries fare worse – Turkey, Cyprus and Greece).

What is so concerning about this report is that despite clear indications this would happen, we still allowed ourselves to follow this path. And it was not inevitable. Unicef’s report shows other countries have managed to improve and even reverse child poverty figures despite the recession. We cannot but heed this latest dire warning. Decisive steps to reverse this trend must be taken as quickly as possible.

We must build on the Budget 2015 pledges and invest in public services that benefit children, in particular health services. We must improve access to quality early childhood care and education and continue to invest in child benefit as a universal payment which, alongside robust public services, are proven to be the best approach to tackle child poverty.

Poor children grow up in poor families; breaking this cycle by investing in children is not only better for them but the economy and wider society too. Children only get one childhood and that so many in Ireland have had theirs blighted is an indelible stain on our conscience.

As Unicef recommends, we must place the wellbeing of children at the top of our responses to the recession. – Yours, etc,



Chief Executive,

Christchurch Square,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Desmond Fennell (October 27th) says “contemporary Irish culture resolutely values only one kind of creative writing, namely fiction” and he avers that we are “a nation loving the artful creation of made-up stories, fearful of minds probing and presenting the realities of the human condition”.

On the contrary, this probing and presenting is the very purpose of literary fiction. It does so by the creation of fictitious settings, characters and action which highlight truths of real human experience.

The purpose of literary fiction is to tell the truth about life, and as such is entirely consonant with the study of philosophy, which is long overdue in Irish schools. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – The real reason why proposals for the introduction of philosophy into the school curriculum, despite being repeatedly advanced over the last few decades by such groups as the committee on philosophy of the Royal Irish Academy, have consistently failed has been simply the opposition of the Catholic Church, which felt that its proper domain was being encroached upon.

The power of such a veto is now much lessened, I think, and the remaining problems would now be how to select a course of study that would be neutral as between the various schools of philosophical thought, and how to prevent such a course from being mind-numbingly boring.

A solution would be to employ a process of Socratic-style questioning, presenting a series of propositions, in ethics or metaphysics, and encouraging students to question them, and provoking students in turn to advance their own opinions, which would then be subjected to the same process. This would train the students in a basic philosophic method which could be applied to the whole of their curriculum, which would in turn produce a more open-minded and inquiring younger generation.

It is such a programme that we are currently developing in the Platonic Centre in Trinity College Dublin, and which we hope to be able soon to present to the second-level teaching unions for their feedback. We do feel that such a module would be a most beneficial component of at least the last few years of the secondary school curriculum. – Yours, etc,


Director Emeritus,

Platonic Centre,

Trinity College Dublin.

Sir, – Desmond Fennell is absolutely right. This small island has an international reputation for imaginative writing but doesn’t rank anywhere in terms of its thinkers. George Berkeley, the only world-renowned Irish philosopher, was a bishop whose philosophy was also an escape from reality, promoting as it did the notion that the external, material world doesn’t exist and that the things we perceive are simply collections of ideas put into our minds by God.

The few more secular Irish philosophers, like John Toland and Francis Hutcheson, had a major influence outside Ireland but have been effectively erased from the Irish literary landscape.

Of course, both Toland and Hutcheson left the country, but so too did many great writers of fiction who challenged aspects of Irish society through their works, such as Joyce and MacNeice.

It seems that, whether it is through philosophy or fiction, we Irish cannot bear too much reality. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I refer to Paul Cullen’s report (“Fair Deal waiting list triples since January”, October 28th) outlining the plight of some 2,100 older people awaiting admission to a nursing home as a result of the unconscionable delays in the Fair Deal scheme (also known as the Nursing Home Support Scheme).

A much larger problem relating to these delays is that a sizeable percentage of this older person cohort are languishing in acute hospital beds while being medically fit for discharge and that these beds are not available for acutely sick people.

There is a direct correlation between the number of sick people awaiting admission to acute hospitals being held on trollies in accident and emergency (A&E) departments and the number of older people occupying acute beds in these hospitals.

The solution to this growing problem does not just lie in an increase in Fair Deal funding to facilitate admission to nursing homes but must include a more advanced home care package scheme.

Having observed the growing A&E department problem over the last number of years, I suspect politicians will only act when their sick constituents arrive in their clinics when they are unable to gain admission to an acute hospital. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – As a former member of the Progressive Democrats (PDs), I read Kathy Sheridan’s interview with Des O’Malley with great interest (“Des O’Malley: ‘I didn’t have a thick enough skin’”, October 25th).

There is much to admire about the political legacy of Mr O’Malley; his handling of the arms crisis, opposition to Charles Haughey and his revulsion at Sinn Féin.

But I was surprised at his reaction to the resignation of then tánaiste and leader of the PDs Michael McDowell on the day of the 2007 election count. Perhaps Mr O’Malley felt sick at the reaction of the crowd, which stopped Mr McDowell from entering the RDS, but the article gave the impression that it was the resignation itself which galled Mr O’Malley.

It is disappointing that Mr O’Malley cannot understand that Mr McDowell’s election night resignation was not unique and is common in politics when a party has suffered a defeat. Michael Noonan announced his resignation as Fine Gael leader on election count night in 2002.

The demise of the PDs was not caused by Mr McDowell’s resignation but it did signal the party was coming to an end. It was a sad moment for members of the party and members of the public who had respected Mr McDowell as a very fine tánaiste and minister for Justice. – Yours, etc,


Monkstown Valley,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – What is all this about postal codes (“Living by numbers: how Eircode system pinpoints your address”, October 27th)? For years, a useless monthly newsletter arrived at the RTÉ newsroom in Montrose addressed to Mr Henry Street, Dublin l. Henry Street was, of course, the old Radio Éireann address, at the side of the GPO. The missive, whatever it was, went straight into the wastepaper bin. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Postal codes? Well, it’s fun to be modern. Though most unwelcome correspondents – mostly official, pursuing blind alleys – have seemed able to find me with my four-line address without difficulty for the past 35 years. Presently I am being pursued – by post – for a television licence, though I have no television, and if I had – at 75 – would not be liable for same. I look forward to a post-coded demand for water charges, though how they will meter my stream, I am not sure. This is my adopted country, and I love its people. But its bureaucracy is something else. – Yours, etc,


Beara, Cork.

Sir, – Regarding the 123 signatories on the online version of the letter on the direct provision issue (October 28th), I notice, as is typical of these letters, that most of the signatories seem to be university lecturers in soft subjects such as gender studies (heaven forbid that they should think that their opinions are more important than those of the rest of us).

For a change, wouldn’t it be nice to see the signatories of 123 blue-collar workers? In keeping with the letter of October 28th, a certain percentage of these workers should be living abroad, with an opinion on how tax should be spent in a country where they don’t pay tax.

When The Irish Times decides on whose letters to publish, does it judge the letter by its content, or the number of signatories it has, or the social status of those signatories?– Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – I see from Olivia Kelly’s report on proposed new bylaws on busking in Dublin’s city centre that several changes to the styles of performance are being considered (“Barred from Temple bar but buskers may get late reprieve on Grafton Street”, October 28th). There is one change which could be introduced which would improve the quality of the city-centre shopping experience for everyone – a ban on the use of amplifiers and loudspeakers. The city’s general traffic noise is quite loud and in some areas buskers may feel obliged to use amplification if they wish their performance to be heard, but in the pedestrianised areas of Grafton Street, Temple Bar and Henry Street there is no good reason for the use of loudspeakers – other than to drown out the busker up the street!

A reduction in the noise level would actually mean that more buskers could perform along a given street without interfering with each other’s performances. – Yours, etc,


Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – As a citizen of Ireland, a Dubliner, a suburban dweller, and a non-runner, I for one am tired of marathons taking over my city on bank holidays. In particular, the June and October bank holidays are taken over by the mini and main marathons, meaning that the city is largely blocked off for most people on those occasions.

That these are among the few bank holidays not associated with Christmas or Easter exacerbates the situation – it’s not as if there are that many days off to enjoy. Indeed, that these events are participated in by perhaps 1 per cent or less of the population surely suggests that these marathons should be moved to ordinary weekends at least, if not out of the city centre areas altogether.

I would also ask why marathons need to be run in a city in the first place – surely this is not the ideal landscape for running? Moving such events to the Phoenix Park or the Dublin mountains would surely be viable? It would also mean that the vast majority of the population who have absolutely no interest in running would not have to endure such niche spectacles, and could get on with enjoying their rare bank holidays in their own city. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – News of the increase in the number of Irish millionaires due to escalating house prices will be cold comfort to the rising number of working people falling into homelessness due to unaffordable rents in Dublin (“Number of Irish millionaires hits 90,000 as property prices surge”, Business, October 21st).

In the moral vacuum of our neoliberal, free market economy, more and more people are inevitably becoming consigned to what critic Henry Giroux calls “zones of abandonment and social death, where they become unknowables, with no human rights and no-one accountable for their condition”.

The logic of a profit-driven system dictates that the cost of socio-economic protections is unjustifiable, but it also means that we have failed in our collective civic responsibility to our fellow citizens. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – I travel the M50 most days and I usually find the slowest drivers in the middle lane, oblivious of those passing them on the inside and outside.

I would gladly sacrifice the minor inconvenience of seeing people in other lanes going a little faster for the poor lane discipline that means I must get through the middle lane owners’ club in order to go from the inside lane to the outside lane for overtaking and then back again. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Irish Independent:

I am replying to Lorraine Courtney’s article in the Irish Independent on the job bridge programme, where she states categorically that “in a wide variety of industries, current students and recent graduates don’t yet have the skills and experience needed to contribute meaningfully to an employer’s success”.

This is despite spending four years, on average, in university gaining a degree, followed by time spent gaining further post-graduate qualifications, with many even returning to universities to gain a second degree after the first has proved fruitless on the employment market.

So, for many, despite having spent the best part of a decade at Irish universities, we conclude they do not have the skills that employers want.

Why do we have universities, bearing in mind they cost tens of millions to run and we have a small army of academics earning often hundreds of thousands of each?

Perhaps it would be best to shut these universities down – if they are so useless in the skilling department – and send the school leavers directly into programmes where they can quickly attain the right skills for employers.

Desmond Nugent

Ballybane, Galway

Autism and C-sections

I wish to take issue with your article: ‘Children born by C-section more likely to have autism’ (Irish Independent, October 27, 2014).

It reports that a meta-analysis of 25 published studies finds a “23pc increased risk” of autism in children delivered by C-section. This sounds like a huge increase, when in fact it is merely a 23pc increase of the baseline rate of about 1pc (so really an increase of 0.23pc).

A clearer way to report this is to say that if the base rate of autism is 10 children out of 1,000, that you would expect -12 out of 1,000 children all delivered by C-section. That is effectively negligible.

Moreover, your headline and much of the text leaves the impression that C-sections cause an increased risk. All the data shows is a (very modest) correlation between these two factors.

It is equally plausible (more plausible in fact) that C-sections are merely an indicator of obstetric complications, which may themselves be associated with an underlying developmental condition of the fetus. Your article confuses a statistical correlation with evidence of causation and leaves an extremely misleading impression.

Finally, no comment is provided from other scientists or clinicians as to the merit of the study or the claims it makes. If you had sought some, you would likely have found that most researchers would not consider a finding like this newsworthy, especially as it so open to misunderstanding.

Despite the authors’ caveats, readers will be left with the impression that C-sections dramatically increase the risk of autism – an attitude that is likely to result in harm to mothers and their babies if they refuse that surgical option under conditions where it is advisable. In fact, no such claim can be made from the results of this study.

Professor Kevin Mitchell.

Institutes of Genetics and Neuroscience

Trinity College Dublin

Canada’s response to terror

The dreadful events in Canada have, to me, only highlighted how different Canada and the United States are in certain respects. They share culture, undoubtedly, but there are still fundamental differences between the two nations.

Canada suffered an awful terrorist attack that left two people dead (including the attacker) and several others injured, with Canada’s Houses of Parliament coming under direct and sustained attack and national leaders themselves almost being killed. Yet I was impressed by the response of Canadians to this attack. Instead of lashing out with military strikes and overblown, repressive legislation, they chose, what is in my point of view, a better way.

They chose to get on with things.

The government got back to work dealing with important national issues. Politicians showed great solidarity with each other and terrific support to the victims. They spoke of strengthening legislation to enable the security services to better protect the country. Even the way they talked about the security services spoke volumes.

Unlike the US they do not separate the services. To them the security services involve all military and civilian groups working in a co-ordinated manner towards a common goal. Americans frequently talk about the FBI and the CIA like they are completely separate entities.

What a difference the 49th parallel makes.

Colin Smith

Clara, Co Offaly

Tide turns against bullfighting

Bullfighting and other cruel blood sports continue to shame twenty-first century society, but thankfully the tide is turning in the battle against such practices.

This month’s vote in the European Parliament to end EU subsidies to farmers who breed bulls for Spanish bullrings received unprecedented support – with 323 of the 690 MEPs voting for it. Some 309 voted against. Unfortunately, this majority was not sufficient to see the proposal pass, as 58 MEPs abstained in the vote and the required majority quorum of 376 was therefore not achieved.

Even so, the result is a major step forward in the campaign to end the indirect funding of bullfighting by EU taxpayers via the subsidies. A majority of MEPs are now openly against bullfighting and the next vote on the subsidies issue will bring closer the demise of this nightmarish blood sport. Each year, the EU provides an estimated €130m through Common Agriculture Policy payments to people who breed bulls specifically for bullfighting.

Bullfighting relies heavily on the subsidies. Without these payments, the horrific “industry” would be on the brink of collapse as attendances are already down at all bull rings in Spain and most Spaniards, according to opinion polls, are now opposed to the practice.

Though it may seek to hide behind the mantles of custom and tradition, and in spite of all the romanticism surrounding it, the truth about bullfighting is unambiguous: each bull is subjected to deliberate and agonizing torture.

At the end of the performance he plunges his sword between its shoulder blades.

John Fitzgerald Campaign for the Abolition of Cruel Sports

Callan, Co Kilkenny

Gay Byrne – one of a kind

I get annoyed when I see Gay Byrne on radio and television at this age of his life, with so much talk about the loss of his pension and all sorts of other investments.

However, my opinion changed on Monday night, with a programme of extracts from the Late Late Show and I have to say I was glued to the television. And I said to myself: there will never be anybody that can take his place.

Pat McCabe

Celbridge, Co Kildare

Sinking feeling on Irish Water

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Irish Water was set up. It managed to tread water for a while until the truth leaked out drip by drip . . . but now it looks to be in deep water.

The Government tried to throw cold water over the whole thing . . . but now it has come to the boil. I have this sinking feeling about Enda and Co. Could this be their Waterloo?

Eamonn O Riordain

Celbridge, Co Kildare

Irish Independent



October 28, 2014

28 October 2014 Tip

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day off to the tip to drop off the leaves still some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor won’t answer the phone!

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Richard Laws – obituary

Richard Laws was a British Antarctic Survey director whose budget was saved by the Argentines and Mrs Thatcher

Richard Laws

Richard Laws

5:32PM GMT 27 Oct 2014


Richard Laws, who has died aged 88, was an eminent zoologist who served as director of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) from 1973 to 1987; he had much to be grateful for when the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982.

Laws set out to build on the work of his predecessor, Sir Vivian Fuchs, who had led the Survey through its pioneer days and gained government support for a central headquarters in Cambridge, as well as for an effective field organisation with five research stations, two support ships and supporting aircraft. Laws aimed to consolidate BAS’s reputation as a leading multidisciplinary research institute. But he had to struggle against efforts by the BAS’s parent funding body, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), to trim its budget.

Soon after he took office, BAS was required to make cuts of 10 per cent, and further budgetary pressure was applied in 1979. Among other reductions, the BAS cut its representation in the Falkland Islands to just one person, though plans to close its station at King Edward Point on South Georgia were vetoed by the Foreign Office which was concerned that Britain would lose its only administrative presence on the largely uninhabited territory.

The Foreign Office agreed to fund the construction of a new BAS facility at King Edward Point, which had been occupied for only three days when the Argentines arrived in April 1982.

The BAS team was deported and briefly interned in Argentina before being repatriated to Britain.

The successful recovery of both South Georgia and the Falklands by June had an enormous impact on the fortunes of the BAS. Margaret Thatcher decided it was in Britain’s interest to remain a major presence in the South Atlantic and Antarctica and that one of the routes to achieving this should be in science.

She directed that the BAS’s operating budget be doubled and a major programme of capital investment be carried out. As a result, by the early 1990s BAS had been transformed into a highly professional organisation, leading the world in Antarctic science.

Steel helmets abandoned by Argentine armed forces who surrendered at Goose Green in 1982 (PA)

A key result of all this activity was the discovery, in 1984, by the BAS team of atmospheric scientists at the Halley Bay base, of the depletion of the ozone layer over the South Pole – a discovery which jolted the world into a new awareness of man’s potential to wreck the planet.

In 1989, when the leader of the opposition, Neil Kinnock, attempted to belittle Mrs Thatcher’s claim in an interview to have intervened to save the BAS’s funding, Laws leapt to her defence, revealing that she had intervened, not once but twice, to save the Survey from cuts that would have put its work at risk — once after the Falklands conflict, and again in 1986 when the NERC had made a change in funding rules which again threatened its work. “It really was a personal, individual appreciation of the problem, when it had been put to her, that led her to intervene,” he recalled, “and I felt extremely grateful.’’

Richard Maitland Laws was born on April 23 1926 at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, and educated at Dame Allan’s School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, from where he won a Scholarship to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he later became a research scholar and honorary fellow.

Late in 1947, within a few months of gaining a First in Zoology, Laws sailed south as a biologist with the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (later BAS), in a team led by Sir Vivian Fuchs. Fuchs put Laws in charge of the station on Signey Island in the South Orkney Islands, where he was to study the biology of the southern elephant seal.

Southern Elephant Seal pup, South Georgia Island (ALAMY)

He spent two years at Signy before returning to Cambridge to start writing up the results of the most comprehensive study to have been made of any species of seal — and perhaps of any large mammal in the wild — until that time.

In 1951 Laws went south for a further year with the FIDS, this time in charge of the station at Grytviken, South Georgia, to continue his work on the elephant seal, looking in particular at possible measures to conserve the population in the face of exploitation of the seals for their oil. He devised a management plan for the industry which was implemented successfully until sealing on the island ceased with the closure of the whaling station in 1964.

During the course of this work Laws found that the age of a seal (and indeed many other mammals) can be accurately assessed from the study of growth rings in the teeth — a discovery that revolutionised studies of the population dynamics of mammals.

After taking his PhD in 1953, Laws joined the staff of the National Institute of Oceanography, and in the same year returned to the Antarctic for a season, this time as a biologist and whaling inspector in the factory ship Balaena. He continued his research on whales until 1961 and was the first scientist to suggest that the reduction in the population of fin whales through whaling had led to an increase in their growth rate and decrease in their average age at maturity — a finding that is still a matter of debate.

In 1961 Laws transferred his interest from large marine mammals to large terrestrial mammals, and from Antarctica to East Africa. He worked in Africa for the next eight years, initially as director of the Nuffield Unit of Tropical Animal Ecology in Uganda and later as first director of the Tsavo Research Project in Kenya. His own research concerned the biology and management of hippopotamus and elephant populations. In Elephants and their Habitats (1975) he and his co-authors put forward the controversial, but now generally accepted, idea that culling is essential for the proper management of the animals.

Southern Elephant Seal (ALAMY)

Laws returned to BAS in 1969, as head of its Life Sciences Division, succeeding to the directorship of the whole organisation in 1973. Despite the burden of administrative duties, he continued to play a leading role in scientific forums, helping to draft conventions for the preservation of marine life and editing major works on Mammals of the Sea (1978-82) and Antarctic Ecology (1984). He also published a more personal assessment of challenges facing the region in Antarctic: the last Frontier (1989), in which he expressed cautious optimism that within the Antarctic Treaty system the problems of safeguarding the environment could be solved.

On his retirement from the Survey in 1987, Laws took over full-time as master of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, having already served two years part-time in this capacity. From the start he took a characteristically firm hold on college affairs, in the face of reservations from some members of the strongly religious foundation about his professed agnosticism. But the college flourished under a master who also took an active part in university affairs and in outside organisations including the Zoological Society of London, of which he was secretary from 1984 to 1988.

Laws was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and appointed CBE in 1983. He was awarded the Bruce Memorial Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1954, the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society in 1965 and the Polar Medal in 1976. An accomplished water colourist, he was also a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists.

In 1954 Richard Laws married Maureen Holmes, with whom he had three sons.

Richard Laws, born April 23 1926, died October 6 2014


Russell Brand joins Occupy Wall Street activists in New York City on 14 October 2014. Photograph: XP Russell Brand speaks to Occupy Wall Street activists in New York City on 14 October 2014. Photograph: XPX/Star Max/GC Images

Is politics the only area of human knowledge in which it is deemed clever to sneer at people who raise astute questions, but don’t have instant answers? In most other areas of science, people are applauded for raising questions that resonate with lived experience, even if they cannot provide confident answers to them. The relentless stream of condescension directed towards Russell Brand, including Hadley Freeman’s latest contribution (Don’t put all your faith in Russell Brand’s revolution, 25 October), give the impression that if one is not a native speaker of the opaque language of insider politics, one is almost certainly a clownish impostor.

In my current British Academy-funded study of how people first experience talking about politics, I have interviewed many people who have told me that they are frightened to open their mouths in the political realm lest they be dismissed as naive, ignorant or emotional. Asking radical questions is no less a contribution to democratic debate than devising sophisticated policies – and it is more of a contribution than is made by those who regurgitate stale and unreflective caricatures.
Stephen Coleman
Professor of political communication, University of Leeds

• Russell Brand is a flawed individual, something which he admits regularly, and I do not agree with him when he proclaims that people should not vote. However, the views he promotes should not be denigrated and disregarded out of hand, as so many of your commentators have done in recent days. John Lydon, who has had the misfortune to experience directly the sufferings of the British underclass, proclaimed that Brand preaches revolution from “a mansion” (Never mind Russell Brand, use your vote!, 15 October). So too did Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm – on whom, it has been revealed recently (Report, 24 October), MI5 once spied – and EP Thompson. Hill was the master of Balliol College, Oxford; Hobsbawm was a product of the bourgeoisie who held a professorship at a major college of the University of London; and Thompson pursued a career as an independent historian and political activist because of his inherited wealth (and, it should be added, the income provided by his wife, Dorothy) after he parted company with the University of Warwick in the early 1970s.

I raise these points not to argue that these historians had no sympathy and understanding of the plight of those less fortunate than themselves, but instead to suggest that the middle-class left, from whom the Guardian draws much of its readership, seeks to engage with Brand in a less hostile fashion. Neither Brand’s morals nor arguments are perfect, but he is able to set an agenda and engage an otherwise apathetic sector of the population in politics. Out of your commentators, Owen Jones is one of the few who is able and willing to engage sympathetically yet critically with Brand, and I commend him for doing so.
Dr Tim Reinke-Williams
Senior lecturer in history, University of Northampton

• Could I just clarify to Hadley Freeman that people are not “a bit fed up” with politicians, they are extremely sick of the horrors. Russell Brand is certainly amplifying the cause of people who have every right to be, such as the Newham mothers. Perhaps we can look forward to her analysis of what she might consider more coherent manifestos by political parties even though (SPOILER!) they will be works of complete deception. At least Brand has begun to show that will be the case.
Phil Revels
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

• Well done, Hadley Freeman, for puncturing so eloquently the pompous, overinflated, overhyped balloon of Russell Brand’s ego. For too long, commentators who should know better have acquiesced with or even lauded his naive faux-intellectual views. The Evan Davis interview on Newsnight exposed Brand’s extreme reluctance (or inability) to engage with facts, as well as his conspiracy-theory cherry-picking mentality. What remained was little more than bluster. May the rollercoaster now be derailed before it departs totally from reality.
Mike Venis
Faversham, Kent

• Having worried for some considerable time about the Guardian’s apparent fascination with Russell Brand – his column some years ago plus his almost daily advertising image recently – imagine my relief on reading Hadley Freeman’s splendid column. Seemingly gentle in tone, her demolition was nevertheless almost total. Maybe she should now write about Nigel Farage or, come to that, David Cameron?
Christopher Bell
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire

• Should we not be open to the possibility that Russell Brand might be an MI5 stooge masquerading as an anarchist to discredit the movement?
Dr Michael Paraskos

• Could Maureen Lipman (Queen for a day, 25 October) please talk some sense into Russell Brand?
Shona Murphy

• Russell Brand’s Newsnight interview was like watching a spoilt brat, shouting, groping and incapable of listening to any voice but his own. I thought how glad I am that my own children have manners. Many of the views he espouses aren’t different to mine.

I’ve been a Labour councillor for 28-plus years and have dedicated a huge amount of my life to supporting vulnerable people and helping to make the community I live in a better place. I do it as a democrat through a political party.

This is the kind of thing many politicians do in abundance, but you don’t get to hear of it in the press because they rarely report good news.

I live in a country where democracy is not valued. Where the rightwing media is constantly negative and promotes a blame culture. Since we get most of our views from the media, it’s no wonder people are disillusioned on their daily diet of woe.

So much time is now devoted to motormouths like Nigel Farage and Russell Brand, who can convert the apathy generated by the press into a messianic cause with narcissistic self-promotion and get a massive pat on the back for it. What a sad society we have become.

Sometimes I switch off the daily gloom for a month. Life definitely becomes a more serene experience then. If we heard more of the the good stuff that politicians do we might not be so “switched off” – and pigs may fly!
Linda Kirby

• I read Hadley Freeman’s article and found myself disagreeing with her opinion. Firstly, who is asking us to believe in “his” revolution? I like to watch Russell Brand’s Youtube programme The Trews not because I believe in him as a revolutionary leader but because I find the points he makes and the subjects he covers are interesting and not ones widely covered in the mainstream media. I do not find he has “long ago exceeded the outer limits of his knowledge” but rather would consider he is on a voyage of discovery. He also makes me laugh, which Hadley’s article sadly didn’t. I am a nurse, and while I vaguely remember watching the Woody Allen film Hadley refers to, I also struggle to remember when I last had a pay rise – which, along with increased pension contributions, increased professional body membership fees and the rising cost of living, has left me also struggling to feed and clothe my children, and keep our home warm. Therefore I appreciate Russell Brand’s appearance on the anti-austerity demonstration and find his views more of use in understanding both my current situation as well the global one than I do Hadley’s blithe comment that the revolution is not going to happen. If there is no revolution in the way power structures are presently organised – benefiting a few at the expense of the many – then (spoiler alert) the world’s climate, for one thing, will not survive.

I am left wondering why so many column inches were spent on such a negative view of Russell Brand.
Anthony Foster
Wirksworth, Derbyshire

• I found Hadley Freeman’s comment on Russell Brand offensive and derisory, and it left me thinking: “You don’t get it!”

So what if he uses a chauffeur to drive him to see a group of women who are threatened with homelessness by immoral landlords. He used his position to try to support them, and to stop them and their children being removed forcibly from their homes. He sees very clearly how the “system” is set up to support those “who have” at the expense of those who “have not”.

The reference to Brand comparing himself to Jesus is hardly worth mentioning – he is a comedian! Opening his life to the world, his troubles and challenges, Russell makes connections with people, understands and listens to people and empathises with their struggles. He makes connections with young people who feel excluded and isolated when being “talked at” by mainstream politicians and corporate representatives. He can see clearly where the roots of struggles lie and shouts loudly about them. Thank goodness somebody does. I have been waiting for him for 61 years!

This will make many people who enjoy the comforts of the world’s inequalities uncomfortable and want to mock and deride Russell Brand, belittle him and try to make him look a fool. This is a well-worn tactic used by the establishment media to undermine anyone who criticises the established order.
Maddy Conway

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. At 50, Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd) was younger than Kristin Scott Thomas, Emma Thompson and Jodie Foster, to name but a few. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

Despite not wishing to give Mike Read’s Ukip calypso (Report, 24 October) any more attention than it deserves, I must point out there could be some plagiarism going on. The 1956 Harry Belafonte song Man Smart (Woman Smarter) which it appears to be based on was credited to King Radio (Norman Span). The notion of using calypso in an anti-immigrant discourse is bonkers, even for Ukip.
Bob (King Liar) Jones

• You don’t suppose, do you, that the apparent lack of interest in DIY could have anything to do with a generation stuck with renting and therefore no incentive or opportunity to renovate (DIY stores are hammered by lack of do-it-yourself drive, 23 October)?
Henry Malt
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

• Steve Rose writes that Renée Zellweger, at 45, isn’t exactly in the Norma Desmond league (My face is my brand, G2, 23 October). Not that far off. Norma Desmond was only 50, younger than Kristin Scott Thomas, Janet McTeer, Emma Thompson, Jodie Foster, to name but a few actors de nos jours. Something has changed, thank god.
Antoinette Jucker

• It struck me that, apart from on your spread describing how far women’s representation in sport had come, every photo in the 25 October Sport supplement was of a man and every contributor was male. A long way to go as far as the Guardian is concerned, evidently.
Chloe Tucknott
Tonbridge, Kent

• It’s easy for Mark Zuckerberg to appear charitable (The tyranny of life’s high achievers, 25 October) with the money he avoids in paying taxes. The reality is different.
Ad Mast
Stenalees, Cornwall

• Menopause symptoms last “two to five years”, Dr Dillner says (G2, 27 October). I wish! I’m in the 13th year with no end in sight. I wish I’d been warned.
Alison Markillie
Glastonbury, Somerset

London Pride March 2009 Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people (and their friends) may come together for events such as Pride marches, but generally ‘the groups have fewer commonalities than differences’. Photograph: Paul Brown / Rex Features

“Police fear that other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities may have been targeted” by two “robbers who met their victim through dating app” (Report, 24 October). Let’s be clear: this was a crime by men against men – lesbians had nothing to do with it. Women form a tiny proportion of violent criminals, and these men are hardly likely to target lesbians; heterosexual women are much more likely to get caught by men using a dating app, so they’re the people who need to be warned. We need to stop this mindless conflation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – the groups have fewer commonalities than differences – and if men are the problem, then we should say so.
Professor Rosemary Auchmuty
University of Reading

Vacuuming To claim that anyone who is paid to perform duties on your behalf is a servant ‘invites great confusion’. Photograph: Jochen Tack/Alamy

What dictionary is Gaby Hinsliff (The forelock-tugging has gone, but most of us still depend on servants, 24 October) using? The Shorter Oxford defines a servant as “A personal or domestic attendant; a person employed in a house to perform various household duties according to the orders and requirements of his or her employer”. To claim that anyone who is “paid to perform duties on your behalf” is a servant invites great confusion. As one of those time-poor, (relatively) cash-rich professionals, yes, I pay someone (yes, a woman; yes, an immigrant) to clean my house.

This is a very different arrangement from that which my parents and I experienced “below stairs” in a very, very minor country house in the 70s and 80s. We lived in a tied cottage on the estate, we drove around in an estate car that was the estate’s car, and so on.

For people living and working as true servants, to be dismissed or to resign is to be almost immediately homeless and stripped of the basic mechanisms of modern life. Your employer’s whims and fancies govern your life in a myriad of ways: imagine having to negotiate with your boss whether or not you can install a new bathroom in the house you live in.

I depend on my cleaner more than she does on me. I accommodate changes to her schedule if her regular time becomes inconvenient. I recently gave her a pay rise. I do this because she is reliable, trustworthy and effective. I pay for her time and I want to go on doing so because of the value I receive in return, so I am motivated to be a good … not master, not employer, not boss, but a good client.
Keith Braithwaite
Beckenham, Kent

• With regard to Aisha Gani’s report (Whitehall cleaners gather outside HMRC to campaign for living wage, 17 October) and Polly Toynbee’s article (Low pay is breaking Britain’s public finances: the evidence can’t be denied, 23 October), the Living Wage campaign is doing a good job to raise wages for the low-paid. However, it does nothing to address the army of domestic help with no job security, no benefits, no pay rises and no legal redress.

The casual acceptance of black-market domestic help – often by people who champion ethical causes, attack zero-hours contracts, and are conscious in their purchase of products but not services – is also preventing the development of more ethical business models.

It is time to address this paradox whereby ethical consumers are not ethical employers.

I am a sociology teacher and my wife runs a domestic cleaning business. As such we are astonished that is the only domestic cleaning company to be recognised by the Living Wage Foundation.

We hope this letter provokes further analysis of the structural constraints that prevent our society from being the just one that it should be.
Dan and Jennifer O’Donnell

Victorian carte-de-visite photograph of Mary Seacole. Image shot 1860. Exact date unknown. Detail from a Victorian carte de visite photograph of Mary Seacole, 1860. Photograph: Amoret Tanner /Alamy

Those of us who think Florence Nightingale’s work, in promoting public health, founding nursing and reforming hospitals, was and remains important do not oppose a statue for Mary Seacole (White History Month is here already, 21 October).

Such a statue, however, should not be at St Thomas’ (Nightingale’s hospital) nor label her “pioneer nurse”, which she never claimed to be (Comment, 8 June 2012). She never worked a day at a hospital, in any country. Nor should a Seacole statue face the Houses of Parliament, when it was Nightingale who wrote briefs and lobbied politicians to improve healthcare, especially in the workhouses. Seacole was a businesswoman who sold champagne and fine meals to officers, and catered their dinner parties. Yes, she was kind and generous, to ordinary soldiers as well as officers. These are good qualities, but not the sort that saves lives or pioneers health care.

On 21 October 1854 Nightingale and her team left for the Crimean war. Mrs Seacole was in London, not applying to become a nurse but attending to her gold-mining stocks. She says so in her book.
Professor Lynn McDonald
Editor, Collected Works of Florence Nightingale

TUC march against austerity, London, 18 October 2014. ‘People need hope': the TUC march against austerity, London, 18 October 2014. Photograph: Heardinlondon/ HeardInLondon/Demotix/Corbis

Ha-Joon Chang (Opinion, 20 October) is right that “the country is in desperate need of a counter narrative” to the Tory story on the economy. I believe it should go like this.

First, Labour did not leave behind an economic mess; the bankers did. Labour was not profligate: the biggest Labour deficit in the pre-crash years was 3.3% of GDP; the Thatcher-Major governments racked up deficits bigger than that in 10 of their 18 years. So who was the profligate? It’s a no-brainer.

Second, the Tories have claimed that the reason for enforced austerity is to pay down the deficit. Yet, after six years of falling wages, private investment flat, productivity on the floor, and fast-rising trade deficits, the deficit is £100bn, when Osborne promised in 2010 it would now be next to zero. To cap it all, the deficit will almost certainly rise this year because income from taxes has sharply fallen as wages are increasingly squeezed. Austerity is now a busted policy that has turned toxic. It should be dropped.

Third, Osborne’s so-called recovery is bogus because it is too dependent on a housing asset bubble, too dependent on financial services rather than manufacturing, and has no demand to sustain it. It is already fading as growth slows.

Fourth, the only way now to get the deficit down is by public investment to kickstart sustainable growth via housebuilding, upgrading infrastructure, and greening the economy. Funding a £30bn package at interest rates of £150m a year would create 1.5m jobs within two/three years. Or it could be financed without any increase in public borrowing by printing money, or instructing the publicly owned banks to concentrate lending on British industry, or taxing the 0.1% ultra-rich whose wealth has doubled since the crash.

People need hope. The Tories are continuing with austerity because their real motive is to shrink the state and public services, not to cut the deficit. The alternative offers investment desperately needed, growth in the real economy, genuine jobs, rising wages – and really will pay down the deficit.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton


A crucial factor in the success of the HS2 rail project will be making sure that individual transport projects are not developed in isolation. We must look at our transport network as a whole – that includes roads, rail and air travel.

The new proposal for a high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds reiterates the fact that high-speed rail is about improving transport links in the North and not just connecting infrastructure to London. Having a clear strategy that allows Network Rail, the Highways Agency and local authorities to work together is therefore crucial to ensure northern cities can take advantage of the new infrastructure.

HS2 will be a huge catalyst for economic redevelopment along parts of the route. We’ve heard a lot about these opportunities for the major cities connected by the high-speed line but, until now, little or nothing about the potential wins for cities beyond the immediate confines of the HS2 network.

There is great potential through the connections to the east and west coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits must be tackled now to ensure these locations do not fall behind.

Another crucial factor for the success of HS2 is the availability of engineers to deliver them on time and on budget. Currently, demand for engineers remains high in the UK but companies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit the people they need. This is only going to get worse as major projects such as HS2 move a step closer to reality.

Sahar Danesh, Institution of Engineering and Technology


Sir David Higgins’ backing of HS3 is a fillip for the campaign to create a “northern powerhouse”. Let’s hope the Government’s commitment isn’t just pre-election banter that will fall short of actual results. As ever, the devil is in the detail.

Savvy young investors ought to watch these future infrastructure improvements closely. Already buy-to-let yields achieved in the North are stronger than in London and the South-east. Key northern student cities, including Leeds and Manchester, are top for investment and the strength of the property investment market is set to grow as leading companies relocate around the new “powerhouse”.

With excellent transport links and prime opportunities for investment we will see far more talent grown at the top universities in the North stay put rather than the majority of graduates gravitating south.

Stuart Law, CEO Assetz



Ed Balls and Andrew Adonis complain that, “Only a quarter of projects in the Government’s infrastructure pipeline are in the North-east, North-west or Yorkshire and the Humber” (Independent Voices, 26 October)

However, what they don’t mention is that these areas also contain around a quarter of the country’s population. So if Labour thinks those parts of the country should get a larger share of infrastructure than their share of the population, perhaps they could also tell us which areas they want to see getting a disproportionately lower share?

Mark Pack



Fallon’s apology was disingenuous

Shortly after he made the ludicrous claim that some British towns were being “swamped” by immigrants who were putting their residents “under siege” the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon withdrew the remarks as “careless” (report, 27 October).

He went on to insist that he had framed his argument in words he “would not usually use” but stood by the central claim. This is disingenuous. Fallon’s words were carefully chosen to provoke a very specific response.

“Swamped” was the word Margaret Thatcher employed in relation to immigrants in her notorious 1978 interview for the current affairs programme World in Action. Thatcher was trying to win back racist voters from the National Front. Fallon, I’d argue, is mobilising the same language in trying to win back racist Tory voters lost to Ukip.

Fallon is blowing hard on the racist dog whistle. The mobilisation and encouragement of anti-migrant racism by politicians is not simply “careless”, it is criminally irresponsible.

Tory austerity is destroying services across the country – not migrants. And the only thing “swamping” British towns at present is racism and xenophobia

Sasha Simic (second-generation east European immigrant)

London N16


What a relief to see and hear Michael Fallon revert to type at last. I recall his poisonous first successful electoral campaign in north London where he became elected as one of Margaret Thatcher’s disciples.

More right-wing attack dog than serious Cabinet material, he has managed to keep his true persona well hidden to attain a sufficient air of respectability to become Defence Secretary.

However in an unguarded moment on the BBC he has exposed the prejudices that run through today’s Tory party like the proverbial stick of rock. Mr Fallon should be congratulated; I for one, am deeply indebted to him.

Peter Coghlan

Broadstone, Dorset

We need to know cost of radioactive waste

I compliment The Independent for highlighting the lack of information from the UK Government of what the costs of radioactive waste management will be from the development of new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point (report, 27 October). The European Commission was rightly concerned to understand more fully this critical matter. This is important to the UK taxpayer, who is already paying tens of billions of pounds to resolve the radioactive waste burden from the existing 60 years of the UK nuclear programme.

I believe the European Commission is looking separately at the waste transfer pricing element of the contract between the UK Government and EDF, and I urge the Commission to come to a conclusion on this matter as soon as possible.

I believe the “small print” of the contract reveals there will be a cap on costs for the nuclear plant operator, EDF. If costs escalate above this cap – and the long-term experience of the nuclear industry shows that costs always escalate – then the top-up costs will fall once again to the taxpayer.

This is yet another reason why the Commission should have rejected the deal, and why it has another crucial opportunity to question the waste part of this exorbitant deal. It is another reason why a joint legal challenge by the Austrian Government and environmental groups is urgently required. Otherwise, the taxpayer is saddled with a very bad deal.

Mark Hackett, Chair of UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities



Farage’s column is more than a tease

Bob Gilmurray’s response to my letter is wonderfully subtle (letter, 27 October), and maybe including Nigel Farage as an Independent columnist is a clever form of harm reduction. And, to be fair to Farage, his column does show what a good communicator he is; but then, Ronald Reagan was known as “the Great Communicator”.

However Farage’s last piece went beyond being “teasingly at variance” with the paper’s editorial policy; and I did not know when I wrote my letter that it was part of a co-ordinated campaign for the election of a Crime Commissioner. That makes it even worse than I thought.

Perhaps it is better that such nastiness is out in the open, and in a forum like the pages of The Independent. However, your leader worryingly suggests that a Ukip candidate may win the election for Crime Commissioner.

John Dakin



Could The Independent allow Natalie Bennett of the Green Party a weekly column in line with that privilege given to Nigel Farage? The Greens appear to be the only party at present with a socialist agenda and they offer something truly different from the other four parties. They also have a purpose other than just obtaining or retaining power. I believe this used to be called commitment politics. It would be interesting to hear their point of view each week.

Steven Williams



Scottish labour a shell of former self

I am surprised that anybody in the Scottish Labour Party could countenance as their leader Jim Murphy, who will always be known as The Man Who Was Scared Of An Egg.

But maybe their London masters see things differently and they will do as they’re told if frightened by frequent re-telling of Humpty Dumpty.

John Hein



Scandal of old men sleeping on benches

It saddens me to know that about a thousand elderly people, mostly men, are to be found sleeping on benches most days and evenings in central London in this wealthy country of ours. I see them regularly whenever the television shows the backbenchers on live news programmes from Parliament.

Ioan Richard



HS2 and HS3 must be planned as one system, integrating with the existing rail network at key points

Sir, A major drawback of HS2 is that it is being planned in isolation from the existing rail network. Shiny new terminal stations at Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester will have no onward rail access, and those passengers who want to continue — for example from Birmingham to Wolverhampton/Shrewsbury — will have to transfer to a different station in addition to changing trains.

The French, the pioneers of high-speed rail in Europe, use existing stations in their main cities, and so should we. The proposed HS3 across the Pennines (report and leading article, Oct 25) runs a serious risk of compounding the problem.

HS2 and HS3 should be planned as one system, integrating with the existing network at key points, and in a way that enables the high-speed network to be expanded in the future. An independent study by railway engineers, and known as HSUK, does exactly this. It has produced (and costed) a “spine and spoke” route which not only incorporates both HS2 and HS3 but dovetails with the existing railway system. It merits serious consideration.

Robert H Foster

Winterburn, N Yorks

Sir, Your editorial supporting the development of a high-speed railway network for the north of England is right on the mark. Extending the northern network to include Sheffield would provide a valuable trans-Pennine link to HS3 and to Nottingham and the East Midlands, particularly as a disused trans-Pennine rail tunnel, the Woodhead tunnel, is available and is still in good condition. This tunnel used to carry electric trains between Manchester and Sheffield before it was closed in the 1970s.

Paul M Mather

Emeritus professor of geography

West Bridgford, Notts

Sir, We have had various proposals from Mr Osborne to revitalise our “northern cities” by increasing local powers and improving transport links. However, the “northern cities” in question are not Edinburgh or Glasgow, but the northern English cities of Manchester and Leeds.

Given the projected increase in population in the UK we will need to improve our transport infrastructure, and a high-speed railway from London to the north of the UK is an obvious first step. We need to plan from the outset for a line to link London to Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a branch to south Wales. The devolved governments of both Scotland and Wales should be involved in the planning process.

A properly thought-out scheme for HS2, which also connects directly to HS1 and the new hub airport for London, would provide an economic stimulus and improved connectivity for all parts of the UK. Links to Scotland and Wales cannot be add-ons which may happen in 25 years’ time.

Dr Warren Mann

Gillingham, Kent

Sir, Have the proponents of HS2 and HS3 taken into account the effect that automated cars and lorries will have over the next 30 years? We shall surely see great improvement in the efficient use of roads and vehicles. Many travellers will choose this option to escape the problems of getting to city-centre stations with their luggage.

The efficient driving of vehicles will remove the need for road widening schemes (merging at junctions will be a problem of the past), and necessity will dictate that cars be designed with workstations and loungers. The transport of freight will no longer be hampered by restrictions on drivers’ hours.

Rob Tooze


Sir, Forty years ago I could travel from Sussex to London in under an hour. Now it takes 25 per cent longer. HS2? HS3? Progress?

Bridget Rose

Lewes, E Sussex

Tom Whipple heard his stomach rumbling. The composer John Cage heard something else entirely

Sir, Many years ago the composer John Cage wrote of being in an “anechoic room” where there was no sound. He heard two sounds, one high, one low. When he emerged the engineer told him that the high sound was his nervous system and the low sound was his blood circulating. He concluded that there was no such thing as silence. If Tom Whipple’s tummy had not been rumbling so much, he might have heard the same sounds (Oct 25).

We certainly hear more sounds when listening to Cage’s 4’ 33”.

Patrick Routley

London N6

Just what is the (rather unusual) secret of sparkling white teeth? Ask the poet Catullus…

Sir, The poet Catullus lampoons a Celtiberian coxcomb called Egnatius who is always beaming so as to reveal the sparkling white teeth of which he is evidently very proud (letter, Oct 27). His secret? “Et dens Ibera defricatus urina”. His teeth have been scrubbed with Spanish urine.

Edward Cole

Tonbridge, Kent

For better or worse, TS Eliot changed the course of English poetry

Sir, It’s hard to know how to read Oliver Moody’s column (“From modernist maniac to national treasure”, Oct 25) on TS Eliot. Was it a defence of Eliot? A dissing of him? The random section given from The Waste Land proves nothing either way, since Moody chooses to quote, out of context, just one of the many voices in this famously collaged piece. In this case, a barmaid is speaking and her speech patterns are brilliantly ventriloquised by Eliot: a few lines later, he segues into Hamlet.

The false dichotomy set up in the title of the piece, pitting youthful extremism against cuddly old age, is nothing to do with Eliot’s original reception: much of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock was, according to Eliot, written in 1911 and would have seemed shockingly original when set against the somnolent idylls of the popular Georgian poets of the time.

Eliot did not have to “find his way back” to a poetry audience: they had to find their way to him. To generalise that “there is nothing special about Eliot” is mystifying, when Moody then lists, immediately afterwards, the special qualities of his verse.

For better or worse, Eliot changed the course of English poetry: his work can transcend criticism, too.

Martin Caseley

Stamford, Lincs

Not only did Tilly Shilling solve the Spitfire’s “negative G” problem, she was the first woman to lap Brooklands on a motorcycle at more than 100mph

Sir, Miss Shilling was a member of the Royal Aircraft Establishment’s engine department when she invented the orifice which rightly bears her name and which enabled Rolls-Royce Merlin engines to operate at full power under “negative G” (letters, Oct 25 & 27). She finished her career as head of the RAE’s mechanical engineering department; her male staff were usually addressed by their surnames.

One of her other accomplishments was to be the first woman to lap Brooklands racetrack on a motorcycle at over 100mph. With her husband, Vernon Naylor, she enjoyed several successes tuning and driving sports cars as well as motorcycles.

James F Barnes

(Former deputy director, RAE)

Ledbury, Herefordshire

The 1968-71 trial was resoundingly repealed — and was skewed in any case by the introduction of drink-driving laws

Sir, Your leader (Oct 25) suggests an experiment is “overdue” for constant summer time. This has already been done. The 1968-71 experiment was utterly detested, and was repealed by the House of Commons by a massive majority, 366 to 81, to resounding cheers. Let us not be so foolish as to try again. Going to school, not in the Outer Hebrides but here in Chester, in the pitch black was horrible.

If changing by one hour to central European time would save 80 lives, why not move the clocks by two hours and save 160?

The 1968-71 experiment actually increased morning road casualties and although evening casualties decreased, the period coincided with the introduction of drink-driving legislation, which vastly reduced road deaths — so the supposed saving of lives was not a definite result.

Roger Croston

Christleton, Cheshire

Sir, All your letters (Oct 27) are from people who live in the south of England. In the north of Scotland in midwinter, we have up to three hours less light than those in the south. If the clocks did not go back, our children would have to be taken to school in the dark, often on roads covered in snow and ice, which is encountered much more frequently here than in the south. The full light of day would not occur until after 10am. Thus there would be many more accidents here than in the south, where street and road lighting is much more common.

Emeritus Professor Edward Garden

Kirkhill, Highland


SIR – If one joins a club, a gentleman can do no other than play by the rules.

Instead of trying to wriggle out of his agreement (“I won’t pay £1.7bn bill, PM tells Brussels”), David Cameron would be better employed questioning the EU budget and waste of money, in Brussels and Westminster.

Anthony Hurst
Bridport, Dorset

SIR – It is time that the European Commission publish correctly audited accounts. They are, as I understand it, at least six years overdue.

Anne Kirkwood
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

SIR – I am a farmer. I hope that the Prime Minister and Chancellor understand how I feel when, having spent a fortune on EU environmental compliance, the decline of British farmland birds is still my fault.

Simon Banfield
Puddletown, Dorset

SIR – Just back from “impoverished” northern Spain. Fantastic new roads, new towns replacing fishing villages, and no parking spaces for the huge increase in vehicles. No evidence of their so-called economic problems.

B F Hunt
Broadstone, Dorset

SIR – Of course the European Commission wants to boost the prospects of Ukip against the Conservatives (leading article, October 25). The best option for the Eurocrats is the return of a Labour government. To keep the European federal project on course, it is vital to avoid popular referendums, and they know that only a Conservative government will give the British people an in/out vote on the EU. So the more that can be done to encourage Ukip to eat away at Conservative support, the better.

That’s why we saw Jean-Claude Juncker, the new Commission President, glad-handing Nigel Farage last Wednesday. Commission presidents have form on this: in his last “state of the union” speech, José Manuel Barroso couldn’t resist kicking the Tories and suggesting people might prefer to vote for Ukip.

Now, the presentation of an additional £1.7 billion bill to Britain just before the Rochester by-election has been a gift to Ukip. Potentially therefore, it is a double gift to the EU.

I trust that voters can see through this.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP (Con)
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – Having given £125 million to help with the Ebola epidemic, Mr Cameron rightly castigates seven EU member states for giving less than Ikea’s contribution of £4.5 million (report, October 24). He then increases our contribution by £80 million. What incentive is there to meet your obligations when you have mugs like Britain that will pay your share?

Ken Webb
Bardsey, West Yorkshire

Is it snobbery or regional accents that make people drop – or add – Hs everywhere?

Aitch v haitch: Martineau’s 2014 'H is for Horse’ and Miarko’s 1920 'L’art croquis d’animaux’

Aitch v haitch: Martineau’s 2014 ‘H is for Horse’ and Miarko’s 1920 ‘L’art croquis d’animaux’  Photo: Bridgeman Art Library

7:00AM GMT 27 Oct 2014


SIR – Hangela Arries (Letters, October 24) shares my habhorrence of the hextra H. I ave never been hable to decide if hits use his regional, his due to heducation or family henvironment.

I himagine hits because people hare so hanxious not to drop their haitches that they hinvent new ways hof using them.

Whatever, I ate them.

David Berriman
Burnhill Green, Staffordshire

SIR – I attended a timber technology night-school course in which the lecturer referred to hoak, hash, helm and ‘ickory.

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

SIR – I don’t know why aitch is frequently pronounced haitch. But I have never heard anyone say Enn Haitch Ess.

Gordon Rawlins
Northallerton, North Yorkshire

A poem by a retired major, reflecting on service in Afghanistan

An child plays with a tyre in a street in Herat, Afghanistan

An child plays with a tyre in a street in Herat, Afghanistan Photo: AFP

11:34AM GMT 27 Oct 2014


Morning shadows usher in the breaking of a new day.

Mud ramparts and dusty streets emerge from out of the grey.

Colours slowly sharpen and there’s a stillness to the air.

Echoing along the valley, drifts the morning call to prayer.

Another night ends and sentries change their post,

On watch in a land familiar to Alexander’s ghost.

Snow-capped mountains restrain the morning sun,

Urging it ever higher, though the day has just begun.

Worn faces gaze outwards from within a sandbagged layer;

Their clothes are dust-caked, for there’s little water here to spare.

Behind compound walls the village steadily comes to life:

A haze of cooking smoke finally banishes the night,

The bazaar gradually fills with traders and their wares;

A passing foot-patrol gathers tentative stares.

Empty faces turn and watch the soldiers on their way

Feelings carefully hidden from those in the Taliban sway.

In the shadow of distant peaks this enduring scene unfolds

Yet traces of our last endeavour seem at times hardly cold.

Alexander, the Great Khans and Empires all have waned

A dusty coin or broken fort is all that now remains.

So when the armies have moved on from Afghanistan,

And another generation of forts slowly returns to the sand,

Was the price paid worth it? We will not yet know.

We’ll shake out the dust, pack our kit and await the next show.

Major Bruce Down (retd)
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – In The Irish Times (“Why Europe needs to set the pace on climate change”, Opinion & Analysis, October 20th), Mary Robinson called for us to show climate leadership by tapping into our abundant renewable power supplies, while in the same edition Colm McCarthy argues for the abandonment of just such a policy (“Scrap wind farm plans, urges McCarthy”).

Who is right and who is wrong? Perhaps Colm McCarthy could help by clarifying if he accepts the scientific consensus that tackling climate change will require us to build a completely clean power system within a few short decades. If he does accept that assumption then he needs to show how he would do so without having recourse to additional wind power. If his concerns are limited to the immediate issue of excessive power supplies and electricity subsidies in the Irish market, then why does he not argue for the closure of the peat-fired power stations which are more expensive and polluting than the wind farm alternative? But perhaps the difference is bigger than that. Perhaps he thinks economics trumps science on this issue? Given that the science is based on physical realities, then surely it is the economics that is going to have to change and fit within the limits that exist in the natural world. As Mary Robinson said last week, if we don’t deal with this issue appropriately now, we won’t have a world to do business in. – Yours, etc,


The Green Party,

Suffolk Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – At long last an Irish Government is putting forward arguments in favour of Ireland being treated differently to the other countries in the EU as regards limiting greenhouse gas emissions (“Ireland’s reliance on agriculture recognised in EU climate deal”, October 24th).

Our country has a very different emissions profile and does not conform to the European norm, being comparable only to New Zealand which, the last time I looked, was not in the EU. Yes, we do have other sources of emissions from power generation, domestic and industrial usage and transport but these are quite small and appropriate to our status of a developing economy. Our principal emitter, the coal-fired Moneypoint power station, despite irrational calls from supporters of windfarms for it to be closed or converted to burning biomass, is a vital component of our strategy to keep the lights burning. Coal is abundant and can be sourced from many different countries, which increases our security of supply. Contrast this with the potentially perilous state of supplies of natural gas which we import.

We still suffer from an indifferent electricity grid which loses more power than it should because of a lack of investment during our glory years in particular. Our motorway network is still nowhere near complete and many subsidiary roads require upgrading to reduce traffic hold-ups which lead to wasteful delays. Public transport within our cities needs bringing up to international standards.

Finally, something that is often forgotten is that global greenhouse gas emissions have been rising because the world population is increasing from the current 7 billion people to a projected 11 billion and because the emissions per capita are also rising as people in the third world buy their first cookers, refrigerators, mopeds, etc. Neither of these root causes apply to Ireland and it seems paradoxical that strict limits should be imposed on us because some idiotic committee decided that we were the second-richest nation in the EU and as such should be forced into extraordinary measures to solve a global problem.

The only factor which is acting to decrease emissions are technological improvements in the generation, transmission and utilisation of energy. Here is where our efforts should be concentrated, not in the arbitrary imposition of penalties. – Yours, etc,


Furbo, Co Galway.

Sir, – Harry McGee’s spotlight on the growing unease over property taxes (“Dubliners ‘could face huge increases in property tax’”, October 18th) reminds us of what a very bad model was chosen as the basis for this tax.

The time bomb that is built into the legislation, a property revaluation in 2016, should have been foreseen by the legislators who framed and passed this law. The whole approach to the tax was founded on a flawed and unsustainable model from the beginning – the tax is based on market value of a property rather than on the living space it provides. The present Dublin property bubble represents a looming financial debacle for hundreds of thousands of people that should have been anticipated. But then, was this not the “guillotine Government” that denied enough time to debate the legislation?

Post-2016 those in employment may be able to negotiate with their employers for a raise in pay but those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, face the oncoming storm without any means of avoiding further swingeing cuts to their already depressed living standards.

There is still time for legislators to revisit the tax and substitute a fairer, more stable model than a floating property market.

In Germany, France and many other countries, property tax is calculated on the basis of a rate per square metre of usable living area. Such a system here would remove the vagaries of localised property markets, provide tax consistency throughout the country and assure property owners of the stability needed to manage their household budgets. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – The terms of reference for the working group on direct provision were recently published (“Working group announced to examine direct provision ”, October 14th). These were announced following eight weeks of protest by asylum seekers against the inhumane conditions in which they are forced to live. These protests cannot be dismissed as isolated incidents. Twenty per cent of all direct provision centres in the country have now protested against both local conditions and the system itself. Thanks to their courageous public stand, the truth about life in direct provision has been widely broadcast across the national media.

Despite the widespread public revulsion against the “open prison” that is direct provision, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has seen fit to dismiss these concerns. The terms of reference make the objectives of this working group very clear. Direct provision will remain in place. Any suggestions for improvement will be governed by “cost efficiency”, continued ghettoisation and deterrence. The testimony of asylum seekers will continue to be ignored.

The inclusion of just one former asylum seeker among the 12 NGO representatives cannot conceal the fact that no current asylum seekers will be party to these deliberations. The Department of Justice may gesture towards treating asylum seekers with “respect and dignity”, but it is hard to imagine a greater indignity than constantly being spoken about and for. This working group further silences and marginalises asylum seekers who have to live with the damage that this system has inflicted upon them.

This week, Anti-Deportation Ireland (ADI) issued a statement calling on NGOs on the working group to resign their seats so that asylum seekers chosen by residents in direct provision can take their place. We support ADI’s call. It is wholly unacceptable that a group discussing the present and future conditions of asylum seekers should so disdainfully exclude them. People who are suffering in this system are the ones best placed to speak to its inadequacies.

While those NGOs taking part no doubt do so in good faith, the terms of reference make it clear that this is a cosmetic exercise. The restriction of the working group to considering only limited reform to direct provision is unacceptable. As the scandalous history of institutionalisation in this country demonstrates, there can be no reforming a system of institutional living such as direct provision. As many of the NGOs involved in the working group themselves agree, it must be abolished.

Once this working group has done the Minister’s work, there will be little room for further negotiation in the lifetime of this government. The working group as it is currently constituted will do nothing to alleviate the conditions that asylum seekers endure. Given this, we call on NGO representatives to insist that asylum seekers take their place at the table. – Yours, etc,

1 Dr Jody Allen Randolph, University College Dublin (research fellow)

2 Paddy Anderson, Cork Institute of Technology

3 Dr Kate Antosik-Parsons, University College Dublin

4 Professor Margot Backus, University of Texas at Austin

5 Dr Rebecca Barr, NUI Galway

6 Dr Claire Bracken, Union College, New York

7 Professor John , University College Dublin

8 Dr Patrick Bresnihan, Maynooth University

9 Harry Browne Dublin Institute of Technology

10 Dr Audrey Bryan, St Patrick’s College, DCU

11 Dr Mick Byrne, Maynooth University

12 Dr Susan Cahill, Concordia University, Montreal

13 Dr Nick Chisholm, University College Cork

14 Professor Danielle Clarke, University College Dublin

15 Professor Mary Clayton, University College Dublin

16 Dr Lucy Collins, University College Dublin

Sir, – Perhaps Permanent TSB ought to be renamed the “Post Traumatic Stress Bank”. – Yours, etc,


Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.

Sir, – Does the “needs improvement” rating bestowed on PTSB confer an automatic performance-related reward? – Yours, etc,


Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Watching the European Central Bank vice-president Vitor Constancio speaking at the ECB stress test news conference live on television, I became aware of why politicians failed to react earlier to the financial crisis in Europe – within seconds I was asleep. It may be the case that “banker-speak” is so boring that our political leaders were actually asleep when the bankers briefed them on the impending crisis. Do we owe bankers a collective apology for not listening to them in 2008?

We may finally have a solution for insomniacs – distribute recordings of ECB news conferences to people who have sleep disorders. It may not solve your financial stress but is guaranteed to remedy sleep stress. – Yours, etc,


Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – I would like to disabuse your readers and correspondents of the notion that the troika is responsible for the introduction of water charges.

In 2000, Ireland signed the EU Water Framework Directive into law. Article 16 of that directive requires the introduction of domestic water charges. The directive has to be implemented in full by 2015 and domestic water charges are one of the final pieces still outstanding. The last government signed us up for water charges, leaving this Government to implement them. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Is Irish Water just a cover for the greatest homeopathic experiment in the history of mankind? What happens to Government popularity when you dilute happiness to 1/50,000 parts per millilitre? – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Dr Damian O’Maonaigh (October 23rd) claims that the Humanae Vitae ideal has been left untried because it is difficult. It is fortunate that this is so. Had it become the arbiter of life then typical family sizes, particularly in the West, would be very much larger than they are. This would be bad for the planet, which is already overpopulated.

It would be bad for individual countries. They would find, like Ireland in the 1950s and the Philippines today, that people would become their biggest export. Above all, it would be bad for women, who would be reduced to the status of brood mares.

That women manifestly do not want this state of affairs is amply attested to by the fact that they have, wherever it is possible for them to do so, embraced the empowerment to limit family size that is afforded by modern methods of contraception.

This includes, in general, those women who profess adherence to Catholicism. – Yours, etc,


Windy Arbour,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – The Leaving Certificate is not structured to allow for creative thought, rather it is a two-year cycle focused on a two-week regurgitation of what has been “learned”. Teachers are not to be blamed for this, rather it is those who structure education towards rote learning who have designed a cycle based around this. We shouldn’t forget that this system has also given rise to a multimillion euro industry of “grinds” schools which also focus on what text “will probably come up” for the exam rather than actually teaching children to think for themselves or (heaven forbid) be creative.

A sizeable number of students who qualify for third-level places via the current system subsequently drop out as they do not have the correct skills for a university education. As I understand it, the Trinity College Dublin scheme seeks to address some of the gaps in the current admissions system, whereby those who have the correct aptitude for third-level education – but not necessarily the points – are given the opportunity to prove themselves at this level.

I believe that the TCD scheme should be welcomed to run in tandem with the current admissions system. It is foolish to rush to condemn what is, after all, an experiment. Judgment should be reserved until the quality of the graduates can be benchmarked against their points-race colleagues. – Yours, etc,


Drogheda, Co Louth.

Tue, Oct 28, 2014, 01:03

First published: Tue, Oct 28, 2014, 01:03

Sir, – We are writing to you with reference to John McKenna’s recent article “The best thing since sliced bread? A ban on sliced pan” (Health + Family, October 21st).

Mr McKenna asserts that “if you want to improve the health of families and the health of the nation, what you should ban is commercial bread”. He also comments that “if it’s not good for the swans, can I suggest it’s not good for you either?” This is not only factually incorrect but we believe could raise unnecessary alarm amongst the general public.

All bread, whether made commercially or otherwise, has an important role to play in a healthy, balanced diet. Bread provides a wide range of nutrients, including protein, folic acid, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. For example, research undertaken by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance has found that bread provides as much as 10 per cent of Irish people’s daily intake of protein and folic acid. Although brown bread contains more fibre than white bread, because of its popularity, white bread provides 9 per cent of our daily fibre intake. Bread is also the second main contributor to both the iron and calcium intake of the Irish diet.

A recent review by the British Nutrition Foundation shows that bread produced by the Chorleywood method has the same nutrient content as any other method of production. Bread is largely made from flour (which contains naturally occurring enzymes), yeast and water. In some instances, additional ingredients are added in very small quantities to enhance the final product. These are all approved and deemed to be perfectly safe. – Yours, etc,


Flour Confectioners

and Bakers Association,

Dalkey, Co Dublin;


Federation of

Bakers, London.

Sir, – I have just come home from crossing the M50 from Exit 16 to Dublin Airport and back. At long last I have discovered why there are three lanes on this wonderful route. The inside lane is for those of us who drive at or about the speed limit, the middle lane is for those who travel at up to about 20 per cent over the limit and the outside lane is for those who think the rest of us are wimpy idiots. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I agree with David Reddy (October 27th) when it comes to traffic lights in Dublin impeding the smooth flow of traffic. I am old enough to remember the “Winking Willies” at many intersections in the late 1950s. These signals flashed red in one direction and amber in the other, signifying the care necessary to negotiate a junction. Surely traffic lights could be programmed to revert to flashing during off-peak periods, allowing road users to use “common sense”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 14.

Irish Independent:

The Christian churches have so removed God from our ordinary experience of life that they have unwittingly killed him. Belief is seen as an unquestioning acceptance of certain doctrines that are presumed to lie beyond our capacity to understand them. Our parish priest regularly comforted us with the assurance that even he, after four years in college, could not understand them.

Originally, the concept of belief meant to love, to prize or hold dear. It was in the late 17th Century, through the influence of the philosophers, that belief began to change its meaning, becoming identified with assent to a particular proposition or opinion. What turns people off God is the reduction of faith to what we must believe, entombing our wilder imaginings.

I have real fun with the endless questioning of my very young grandchildren, whose idea of God varies from day to day. It usually refers to all that they experienced as good. My six-year-old granddaughter is more measured, declaring that she feels she is half Christian and half normal.

The development of modern science seduced churches into the business of proving God’s existence, assuming they could match the certainty of science, failing to appreciate that the quest of faith and the scientific quest are very different exercises. The miracles attributed to Christ were seen as the killer blow to any scepticism, though miracles were commonplace in his time and were not seen as proof of superpowers. I see God as the unknown at the heart of things. Understanding the world, or God, is a journey we take. Our explanations are like the bird in flight. We continue into the unknown.

No two people have the same understanding of God; in a way, there are as many imaginings of God as there are people.

I am reminded of the eager five-year-old pupil who, in response to the teacher’s query as to what she was drawing, replied: “God”.

The teacher responded: “But nobody knows what God looks like”.

“They will in a minute,” was the confident response.

Philip O’Neill

Oxford, England

Time for Britain to decide on EU

In 1963 and again in 1967, Charles de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the EU. He argued that Britain was not really interested in European integration. If anything, it was hostile to its success. Notwithstanding that, the UK, along with Ireland and Denmark, finally concluded their negotiations with the EU and became members in 1973.

As early as 1974, the Wilson government wanted to renegotiate certain terms and then have a referendum on membership (the first ever UK referendum). The referendum was carried in 1975.

In 1984, the Thatcher government refused to be bound by the rules on calculating each member state’s contribution to the EU budget. A considerable rebate was given to the UK and to the UK only.

Over the years since then, other member states have raised from time to time the need to revisit that rebate. They do not see why the UK should continue to have it when everyone else continues strictly to be bound by the rules.

Since 2010 we have again been faced with the UK parties playing football with their EU membership. They have promised even more negotiation and another referendum after their 2015 general election. Since then, David Cameron has picked all the wrong battles. He could win friends by tackling policies where he might have developed common ground with others committed to European construction.

But instead, all we Europeans have seen is his stance against the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President and the balance due on the UK’s contribution to the EU budget (0.06pc of GDP). His performance at the press conferences after both those events can at best be described as petulant.

Was de Gaulle right? Is there something in the British DNA that prevents them from being European? If Britain continues to procrastinate on EU membership should not the rest of Europe remind them of Oliver Cromwell’s words to the British Parliament in 1653: “You have sat too long . . . In the name of God, go!”

John F Jordan

Killiney, Co Dublin

What goes up, must come down

I write to strongly condemn the modus operandi of the establishment of Irish Water.

The great EU commissioner Phil Hogan established Irish Water and when he did, the board appointed John Tierney in a permanent capacity as its chief executive officer.

How could the board do such a thing and go causing such upset? How could it force such a fuss, leading Fine Gael senator Martin Conway to let the nation know that “water does not just fall out of the sky”.

How could the board cause such consternation when all it had to do was appoint Mr Tierney and co in a temporary capacity. Then we couldn’t possibly know how much it takes to process water that just doesn’t fall out of the sky by the natural process of gravity, through a pipe, with a little fluoride and other chemicals added. Think temporary from now on please, quangos. Then the little people can’t know, and if little Paddy doesn’t know, then there will be no fuss.

Dermot Ryan

Athenry, Co Galway

In the spirit of Vatican II

Congratulations to the Catholic bishops who stood up to the crescendo of liberal bullying during last week’s synod.

Of course, the easy option would have been to go along with the mob and yield to all the dubious agendas being promoted. We would all like a church made in our own image, facilitating our various human weaknesses – and I’m talking from a male heterosexual perspective.

But that would be cheap grace, selling us all short, unworthy of Jesus Christ. It’s ironic that liberals are condemning the bishops for exercising their authority and going against the Pope. Surely this was what collegiality and Vatican II was all about. Apparently not, if it means dissenting from liberal dogma. I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but thank God for the spirit of Vatican II.

Eric Conway

Navan, Co Meath

‘Civil disobedience’ and crime

Please permit me to comment on the use of the term ‘civil disobedience’ as used by the mass media across this nation. The term is also used by elected officials, union leaders, civil rights organisations and others when citizens refuse to pay a tax or block traffic on major highways – or simply refuse to obey the laws of the land.

An act of ‘civil disobedience’, as outlined by Ghandi and Martin Luther King may only take place when the following five criteria are present.

1. It must be self-evident that the issue being protested against is clearly against the moral code i.e. having to sit in the back of the bus because of the colour of one’s skin.

2. Every avenue for redress must have been pursued without any redress gained.

3. Not only did those in positions of power and influence refuse to address the issue but in the process belittle the petitioner and left no possibility of redress being gained. 4. By committing the act of civil disobedience one must not “seriously disrupt the livelihood of others”.

5. After arrest, one must be prepared to accept the punishment without complaint.

If any one of these principles are missing, ‘civil disobedience’ should be considered as a breach of the law or criminal behaviour.

Vincent J Lavery, Irish Free Speech Movement

Coliemore Road, Dalkey, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

No Answer

October 27, 2014

27 October 2014 No Answer!

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the lawn some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor won’t answer the phone!

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down rabbit for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Sir Ronald Grierson – obituary

Sir Ronald Grierson was a banker and public servant who served with the wartime SAS and became an international networker par excellence

Sir Ronald Grierson, banker, public servant and international networker

Sir Ronald Grierson, banker, public servant and international networker Photo: RICHARD YOUNG/REX

5:12PM GMT 26 Oct 2014


Sir Ronald Grierson, who has died aged 93, was a German-Jewish émigré who built a distinguished and exceptionally long career as a soldier, merchant banker, public servant and international networker par excellence.

Even as a young banker at Warburgs in the 1950s, Ronnie Grierson was celebrated for knowing everyone in Europe who mattered; as his career advanced he became ubiquitous on both sides of the Atlantic. His debut in British public life came in 1966, when he was asked by the Labour prime minister Harold Wilson and his minister for economic affairs George Brown to become managing director of the newly announced Industrial Reorganisation Corporation.

Based on an Italian model, the IRC was intended to drag British industry into the modern era by writing blueprints for industrial sectors and promoting mergers to create “national champions”. Grierson’s private income enabled him to accept the job unpaid, but he did his best to conceal his scepticism towards the concept of state-led industrial restructuring, and to reassure the CBI and the City that he was not about to trample on them. The IRC chairman, Frank Kearton, was less subtle, however, announcing on television: “Now the boot goes in.”

Machinations over the fate of the Rootes car company brought Grierson into collision with Tony Benn, then minister of technology. But it was the merger of General Electric Co with the troubled Associated Electrical Industries in 1967 that brought Grierson’s IRC tenure to an early end. The GEC bid for AEI was hostile, and it was Grierson’s view that IRC should remain neutral; but ministers and civil servants were adamant that IRC should give GEC its public blessing. Grierson refused to compromise, and resigned.

He was nevertheless on close terms with GEC’s managing director, Arnold Weinstock, and took up a vice-chairmanship of GEC. From 1971, he was also (at the invitation of David Rockefeller, of Chase Manhattan) chairman and chief executive of Orion Bank, a venture owned by a consortium of international banks which aimed to rival Warburgs in the Eurobond market. But in late 1972 he was diverted by an invitation to become director-general for industry in the European Commission in Brussels.

This placed him subordinate to the Italian commissioner for industry, Altiero Spinelli, a veteran communist and fanatical federalist whom Grierson described as having “both feet planted firmly on the clouds”. Though amicable relations were established, there was no meeting of minds. Grierson’s efforts were dedicated to reducing trade barriers and impeding what he regarded as the dirigiste fantasies of his colleagues; but he found himself frequently bypassed, and was particularly incensed by anti-Americanism within the Commission. It was a row over plans to attack IBM that prompted him to resign again.

Sir Ronald Grierson with Esther von Salis-Samaden in April 2014 (GETTY)

When he returned to London in 1974, his next job surprised the City: he became senior partner of the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon, despite his own inexperience in broking and the depressed market following the crash of late 1973. The choice, said one commentator, “might seem a little too like a death wish”. Against the tide of opinion, Grierson was upbeat about the prospect of a revival of the Stock Exchange as a source of capital for industry — but again stayed less than two years.

Thereafter he concentrated on his role at GEC and a portfolio of other directorships. He maintained a connection with Warburgs throughout his later career, observing that “all my conflicts of interest are on the table”. He also took on a huge range of extra-curricular commitments, notable among which was his position as chairman and part-time managing director of the South Bank arts complex from 1984 to 1990. This involved creating a new management structure to replace the controlling hand of the Greater London Council, which was about to be abolished; at a farewell bash for the ancien regime, GLC leader Ken Livingstone lamented that the centre would henceforth be run by “third-rate merchant bankers”.

Undeterred by hostility from the Left, scarcity of funding and eruptions of artistic temperament, Grierson found himself enjoying the South Bank job more than he had enjoyed either the IRC or Brussels. There was, he concluded, “not a scrap of evidence for the fashionable and gloomy belief that arts organisations cannot be run on sound business lines”.

A man of huge energy and charm, full of amusing stories and fluent in half a dozen languages, Grierson exhausted less ardent networkers: the comedian Barry Humphries, with whom he worked on charity events, described him affectionately as “that appalling social bulldozer and card-carrying menace”. He was also prone to impatience and histrionics. In his memoir A Truant Disposition (1992), he wrote: “My wife frequently tells me that the lack of an early English education accounts for my inability to bear frustrations and to be what the Establishment admiringly calls ‘a good loser’. She is probably right.”

This propensity manifested itself in serial resignations and a habit (particularly unfortunate in a frequent flier) of blowing his top with airline staff. His book displayed a photograph of a contretemps with two constables at Heathrow in 1956; and in 1995 he attracted tabloid headlines after being escorted off a flight to Frankfurt for shouting at stewardesses about his seat allocation. It was said that Concorde’s departure would be delayed if he checked in late, to avert ugly scenes.

He was also annoyed by being asked, in old age, whether it might not be time to slow down: “Are you still skiing?” particularly irritated him. Though governance codes obliged him to retire from his last public company board, Daily Mail & General Trust, at 79, he maintained a full set of non-executive roles, including chairing advisory boards for the private equity group Blackstone and the management consultants Bain & Co, long into his ninth decade. “Age doesn’t matter when what you’re looking for is common sense,” he observed.

Grierson with Frances Osborne, wife of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, at the Royal Academy in 2012 (RICHARD YOUNG/REX)

Grierson’s family, originally Griessmann, came from Bamberg in Bavaria, where in 1902 his grandfather invented soft lavatory paper and proposed to manufacture it — but was told by the mayor that this was not a suitable enterprise for a town with strong religious connections. So the factory was built in Nuremberg, where Rolf Hans Griessmann was born on August 6 1921 and began his education at the Realgymnasium.

At 11 he moved with his parents to Paris, where he attended the Lycée Pasteur, and in 1936 they moved again to London, where his father opened a factory in Walthamstow and Rolf was enrolled at Highgate School.

He went up to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1939; and in July 1940 — while he was labouring with other undergraduate volunteers, including the future Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, in a forestry camp in Shropshire — he was arrested and interned. But three months later he was cleared by an aliens tribunal and joined an Army Pioneer Corps unit which was commanded by the Marquess of Reading, a friend of his father, and included the Hungarian-born writer Arthur Koestler. For two years they were engaged in digging drains in the West Country, until intensive lobbying secured Rolf a transfer and commission in the Army Air Corps.

Trained as a parachutist, he saw action with airborne and SAS units in North Africa, Italy, France, the Low Countries, Germany and Norway. He was mentioned in despatches and briefly captured in 1945. The War Office equipped him with papers stating his place of birth as Christchurch, New Zealand, but left him to pick his own Anglicised name: a girlfriend with whom he dined at the Berkeley Hotel on the eve of his embarkation for North Africa helped him settle on “Ronald Hugh Grierson” with the aid of a telephone directory.

His parents and sister also became Griersons, and the change was formalised in 1947. The family business was sold to Proctor & Gamble at about the same time, making Grierson independently wealthy for the rest of his life.

The end of the war found 24 year-old Major Grierson — by then with the Black Watch, and proud to wear the kilt — at the British Embassy in Paris. His next posting was to Berlin as an officer of the four-power Control Commission, responsible for liaison with the French; and lastly to Cologne, where (though he “felt not the slightest kinship with the ruined Germany I encountered”) his most sensitive task was to befriend the deposed mayor and future chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Grierson was demobbed as a lieutenant-colonel in October 1946, but recommissioned from 1948 to 1952 to command the newly-formed territorial 21 SAS in London.

Meanwhile he completed a shortened degree at Balliol, and with the help of another émigré, his Economics tutor Tommy Balogh (later eminence grise of the Wilson government), found work as an editorial assistant at The Economist. This took him to Sweden to interview the trade minister Gunnar Myrdal — who was promptly appointed secretary of the UN economic commission for Europe, and asked Grierson to be his assistant. The pattern was set for Grierson’s life in a succession of roles which connected him with all the political and business leaders of post-war Europe.

After eight months with Myrdal in Geneva, he returned to London to join the merchant banking firm of S G Warburg & Co, where his cosmopolitanism and wit made him a favoured protégé of the founder: one colleague called Grierson “Siegmund [Warburg]’s confidant and jester”. It was widely assumed that, having become a director in 1958, Grierson would one day run the firm. But from 1966, when he took up the IRC post, his path lay in other directions.

Among the companies of which he was later a director were several in the US, including Chrysler, the chemical giant W R Grace and the food and tobacco conglomerate R J R Nabisco. British directorships included British Aircraft Corp, the engineering group Davy International, National Bus, and the state-backed computer maker ICL — though Tony Benn vetoed him for the ICL chairmanship.

Grierson was a goodwill ambassador for the UN Industrial Development Organisation, an occasional adviser to the secretary-general, and undertook several overseas missions for the British government. He was also chairman of the European Organisation for Cancer Treatment Research, though his principle charitable involvements were in the arts and humanities.

He was a member of the Arts Council and a trustee of the Royal Academy, the Prince of Liechtenstein Foundation (one of the world’s largest art buyers), the Phillips Collection in Washington and the North Carolina School of the Arts. With his friend the publisher Lord Weidenfeld, he promoted initiatives for international dialogue, including the European Studies Foundation at Oxford University.

Grierson was knighted in 1990, and was also decorated in France, Germany, Italy and Austria.

He married Heather, Viscountess Bearsted (née Firmston-Williams) in 1966; their romance blossomed while he was on sabbatical at Harvard to study international relations at the invitation of Henry Kissinger. They were married in Washington D C, had a son (she also had a daughter by her previous marriage, to the 3rd Viscount Bearsted) and maintained homes in London, New York and Tuscany, where they owned a small Chianti vineyard. Lady Grierson died in 1993.

Sir Ronald Grierson, born August 6 1921, died October 23 2014


Gordon Brown Takes The Labour Campaign To Oldham ‘Remember, during the last election campaign, Gordon Brown was publicly vilified for instinctively associating fears over immigration with “bigotry”,’ writes Mike Allott. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

There are three compelling arguments in favour of maintaining the fundamental principle of EU freedom of movement. First, a people-inflow satisfies short-term demand in an imperfect labour market, and offers a long-term solution to the actuarial uncertainties of an ageing population. Second, a people-outflow allows the opportunity for personal growth and a broader choice over quality of life. Third, a people-interflow broadens mutual understanding.

If these economic and cultural arguments are passionately articulated by our professional politicians, there is no rational, graceful counter-argument. So when John Harris panders to Ukip (Don’t dismiss public fear of migration as mere bigotry and prejudice, 22 October), he bridges the faultline that separates those supporting the principle of EU solidarity and those against.

Surely, if populism defeats our own political principles, it is primarily because our own politicians and own party manifestos seek to follow, rather than shape, such opinion. And it does not matter if John Harris presents a splinter argument that the “modern left” should challenge freedom of movement on the grounds that it primarily benefits “laissez-faire” capital. In the real world of party politics, he is presenting an invalid argument.

Remember, during the last election campaign Gordon Brown was publicly vilified for instinctively associating fears over immigration with “bigotry”. His judgment then, albeit insensitive, was intellectually reductive: we perhaps need to translate Gordon’s clunking instinct for fairness and decencies into a new, logical and more persuasive narrative.
Mike Allott
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire

• John Harris is correct. Debates about cheap labour practices cant just be left to the opportunist “right”. Neoliberal immigration – particularly from outside the EU – is very different from previous manifestations of the phenomenon. My father’s generation’s arrival here from the Caribbean and the rest of the black Commonwealth was partly an apology for the many evils of imperialism and partly a thank-you for the massive war effort of Britain’s colonies. The work they and the Irish did here was – under near-socialist conditions – either contributing to nationalised, not-for-profit public services in education, health, transport and natural monopoly energy utilities and/or sharing in their communal bounty.

That’s very different to being brought here to force down labour costs for foreign tax-dodging corporations. This raises the question: why are migrants coming here? Often it is either because their home countries are impoverished as a legacy of imperialism and/or because tax-dodging western corporations are not allowing them to keep and use the wealth their own labour power generates. Tellingly, some immigrants are even arriving from countries where, in order to subvert our employment standards, western corporations have exported British jobs.

Neoliberal immigration is an aspect of globalisation. It involves the exploitation of immigrant workers, their home countries, British workers and ultimately the planet. Astoundingly, in an era when the west fights “wars for oil”, its environmental footprint – like the global movement of goods – is not even properly costed.
Dr Gavin Lewis

• John Harris points out fears about free migration in towns like Wisbech, where east European immigrants are living five to a room and working long hours. He says that current polling shows 46% of UK people opposed to free movement of labour in the EU. It would be interesting to see the equivalent figures for those who oppose unscrupulous employers who pay way below the minimum wage, or greedy landlords who profit from overcrowding. Where I live, in one of the poorest London boroughs, we experience large-scale migration from the EU and beyond. Left concerns here, even “fashionable metropolitan” ones, tend to be about too little money spent on overcrowded health and education services, and the privatisation of housing, which is helping the greedy landlords. Surely we should be targeting them, and not poor people from abroad?
Lindsey German

• John Harris rightly suggests that the current Brownite leadership of the Labour party is incapable of viewing migration or any other issue from the point of view of labour rather than capital. Nor are they likely to change, since their internal battle with continuity Blairites is merely one for control of the machine, not the agenda.

But it’s not true to say that they don’t get it. Like other neoliberals, they know exactly what’s at stake. As Jean-Claude Juncker told the BBC, “[if] we change rules on freedom of movement today, tomorrow others will try to change freedom of movement of capital”.

The point the left needs to make to those cut adrift by Labour is that controls on migration would be useless without controls on capital. Get that across – which will have banker Farage spluttering into his pint – and we can follow up later with the point that controls on migration are redundant if capital is properly disciplined.
Dr Julian Wells
Principal lecturer in economics, Kingston University

• The key phrase in John Harris’s insightful piece on EU migration refers to the “laissez-faire conditions” under which it operates. Traditionally, the left’s response to the importation of cheap labour has been to address the imbalance of power through trade union or regulatory pressure on wage rates and labour conditions. This is still the best approach – though, given the enfeebled state of the labour movement (including the Labour party), action on regulation seems more feasible in the short term than increased union power.

At the same time, there is surely a missing element in the EU model of free movement. In any quasi-federal system, free movement of labour should go along with a capacity for financial transfers designed to help with social costs that arise (housing, education, healthcare etc). This could be funded by a levy on the capitalist interests that benefit from the movements – in the case of East Anglia, large food processors and supermarkets.
Richard Middleton
Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway

• At last, a piece on immigration that does not patronise the readers. I’ve had enough of those who repeat that “immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take out”. But of course they do; it is not a special characteristic of immigrants. Anyone who works contributes more to the economy than he or she takes out, and there are more than a million workers in the UK who will jump at the chance of being able to contribute to the economy more than they get out, if only they can get a job. As for the argument that immigrants do the jobs that British workers do not want, apart from its racist undertones associating immigrants with menial, low-paid jobs, the solution is simple: pay those who do these “menial” jobs, be they fruit pickers or office cleaners, £10, £15 or £20 an hour and there would never be a shortage of takers.
Fawzi Ibrahim

• Perhaps I should be honoured that you devote an editorial (23 October) to attacking the recent announcement of my peerage. It certainly marks a change in your editorial policy, which for 13 years appears to have been to avoid any mention of MigrationWatch.

Despite your boycott, often mimicked by parts of the BBC, our reputation has grown steadily. Of course we accept that a modern dynamic economy benefits from properly managed migration and that the UK is no exception. The issues are about who and how many. By sticking to a factual approach we have, as has often been remarked, made it possible for immigration to be discussed in public without people any longer feeling deterred by false accusations of racism. Given its importance for the future of our society, many would regard that as a significant public service.

On your specific points, I should make it clear that I would not have accepted a party whip as I am not, and never have been, a member of any political party. I think I should also make it known that I was first sounded out about a peerage for public service last January – long before Ukip had acquired their present prominence.

The delay, I understand, was to permit a widening of the criteria to “encompass a range of individuals with a proven track record of public service, not solely public servants on retirement”. The number has remained limited to 10 in any one parliament.
Andrew Green
Chairman, MigrationWatch UK

mature couple walking on shingle beach. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown. The brief nature of the Guardian survey left this couple with plenty of time to enjoy the beach. Photograph: Alamy

Suzanne Moore comments that the killers of women receive a shorter sentence than those convicted for killing rhinos (G2, 23 October). She misses a point. The criminal syndicates who recruit poachers are also running prostitution and money-laundering rackets, and running drugs and guns. Clamp down on wildlife crime and you tackle these problems too. We’re on the same side.
Cathy Dean
Director, Save the Rhino International

• We shouldn’t just blame Facebook and Amazon – which political party will promise to root out each tradesman who doesn’t charge VAT in return for a cash payment (Loose canon, 25 October)? The return could fill the NHS spending hole in no time.
Aled Owen

• A popup within a Guardian webpage asked whether I would complete a survey, saying you’d like to change your paper to better suit your readers’ tastes. OK. What age group? 65+. Thank you for your time. Finish.
Michael Cadoux

• This is not the first time the Guardian has discussed the class status of curly kale (Cook, 25 October). Some 35 years ago, Wendy Weber, Laura Ashley-dressed Earth mother, advocated cheap and nutritious kale for the working classes, although it did require cooking for a very long time to make it palatable. Bring back Posy Simmonds and the Silent Three.
Eileen Davis
Wokingham, Berkshire

• Mass extinctions, runaway global warming, endemic human strife and violence. Could it be the Finalscene (Letters, 25 October)?
Bill Cook
Eynort, Isle of Skye

Martin Kettle must be exceptionally naive if he believes it’s unthinkable that MI5 would be interested in the surveillance of historians today (Being a communist was all it took, 24 October). He backs his case by listing a group of contemporary historians with unimpeachably conventional views, equivalent, let’s say, to the Trevor-Ropers, Veronica Wedgwoods and even Toynbees of an earlier generation. Does he seriously think that, in today’s climate of manufactured fear, infiltration and snooping, our “security services” are uninterested in academics with links to environmental or anti-globalisation campaigns, let alone anyone with an interest in the affairs of the Middle East? History doesn’t repeat itself, as we know, but it does have a habit of just keeping on going.
Jane Caplan
Emeritus fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford

• Martin Kettle rightly points out that the historian Eric Hobsbawm’s continued, lifelong membership of the Communist party after the 1956 exposures of Stalinism was greatly valued by the more intelligent CPGB leaders, despite their many arguments with him.

But he should not persist in the oft-repeated myth that Hobsbawm was one of the “critics of the Soviet invasion of Hungary” in that year.

What Hobsbawm actually wrote – to the Daily Worker on 9 November 1956 – was that “the suppression of a popular movement, however wrong-headed, by a foreign army is at best a tragic necessity … While approving [my emphasis], albeit with a heavy heart, of what is now happening in Hungary, we should … also say frankly that … the USSR should withdraw its troops … as soon as this is possible.”
Terry Brotherstone
Honorary research fellow in history, University of Aberdeen

• The fact that MI5 spied on some of the most prominent post-1945 British intellectuals such as Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm tells us something unpleasant about how liberal our democracy actually was in the cold-war era. One hopes that in these austere times MI5 is not still at it. If they want to know what modern-day socialist historians are thinking and doing they can read the Guardian and check our Twitter feeds.
Dr Keith Flett (@kmflett)
London Socialist Historians Group

• Martin Kettle rightly draws attention to the difficulty MI5 would have had in trying to decipher Christopher Hill’s notoriously illegible handwriting. The only writing known to me that was worse than Christopher’s was my own. I remember taking back to him a start-of-term “collections” essay for him to tell me what he had written on it. (This was the 1960s.) “What I’ve said,” he explained, “is ‘I can’t understand your writing’.” Great man, great historian.
Professor Gareth Williams
University of South Wales

• Your headline, “Being a communist was all it took”, was exactly right. MI5 wasted time and taxpayers’ money keeping tabs on rank-and-file members of the Communist party like us in addition to well-known ones like Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill. In the early 1950s, when we were involved in campaigning on behalf of Franco’s political prisoners, our letters were opened and read, and private conversations were bugged. Even a public speech Chris made at a political demonstration outside the Spanish embassy was carefully recorded.

All this and more is now on public display at the National Archives at Kew, but our personal files, we were told, are exempt from disclosure under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act. No one, not even the clowns working for MI5, could have seriously believed that we were a threat to national security. We were merely members of a legal political party whose aims and policies were anathema to the establishment.

Unfortunately, undercover police officers did not sleep with either of us, so we are unable to claim compensation from the Met.
Chris and Betty Birch


Janet Street-Porter is of course correct (The Independent, 25 October) that any mansion tax could hit hard those people who bought a house that has risen greatly in value many years ago, but who do not have a large income.  This could in its way be as cruel as the “bedroom tax” in forcing people to move. However there is a way of dealing with this by basing the tax on the price when the house was last purchased. This figure should be readily available from the Land Registry and would save a vast exercise to try and identify and  value homes in the mansion tax bracket.

By using older prices the revenue coming in would be lower unless the price threshold is lowered. This could, at least in part, be made up by introducing a capital gains tax surcharge on the sale of homes  that are not a primary residence. This would also be useful in discouraging the keeping of empty homes, or rarely used second homes, simply as an investment. Indeed the threat of the introduction of such a tax at a future date would be enough to generate a large number  of properties for sale lowering prices for new buyers particularly in holiday areas.

N J T Long


Taking action against domestic crime

I was pleased to be able to help contribute to the recent article in The Independent about  dowry-related violence.

Further to that, I would like to reassure victims that the police take their plight very seriously.

Although dowry-related violence does not have a separate category in police databases and is, for various reasons, something of a hidden crime in our communities, I am keen that the police service does all it can to help those caught in its grip.

All domestic violence is wrong – whatever the reason – and the police will brook no cultural sensitivities in pursuing perpetrators.

The best route to finding out the true scale of  dowry-related violence is for victims to feel confident to report it. However you can, please come forward and let us help you. You will be believed, your complaint will be investigated thoroughly and, where we have enough evidence to satisfy the CPS, we will prosecute your abuser to the fullest extent of the law.

I will, in the coming months, be approaching colleagues around the country to inquire as to whether they have noted any cases of dowry-related violence and to look at ways of addressing it as part of the national honour-based violence strategy which  I have the honour of leading on behalf of the police service.

My message is very clear: where this pernicious form of violence infiltrates our homes – which should be the safest spaces in our lives – we will act with all the powers open to us to protect victims.

Commander Mak Chishty

National Policing Lead on Honour-Based Violence

Recreation and the issue of health

Robert Tuck (letter, 25 October) suggests that people who deliberately risk damaging their health should be charged for all medical treatment they receive. I assume he also includes those who indulge in potentially hazardous activities such as skiing, climbing, horse riding, parachuting and many more “middle class” pastimes which carry risk.

It is easy to blame other people for damaging their health by doing things that one does not do oneself, but one man’s recreation is another man’s vice.

Patrick Cleary

Honiton, Devon

I spent many years starving myself in a useless attempt to stop gaining weight. Realising I was ill I would try to get a diagnosis only to be told that all that was wrong was that I was overweight. I had to give up work, I couldn’t think and I became more and more depressed. I began to  think I was actually going mad and was eating  without knowing I was doing it. Knowing that Robert Tuck (letters, 25 October) would regard  me as morally deficient didn’t help.

After about 20 years a severe metabolic illness  was diagnosed, and at last  I got the treatment I needed. But it was not before my career and many relationships had been destroyed. If Mr Tuck had had his way I would have been made to pay a  financial penalty in  addition to my loss of income. People do not  often become obese from living an “idiotic lifestyle”

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Keeping Farage in a safe place

John Dakin is puzzled as to why The Independent gives Nigel Farage a weekly column (letter, 25 October). I sympathise, but – if I may be allowed a leap to this great organ’s defence – it is a long-standing newspaper tradition to employ a columnist or two whose opinions are teasingly at variance with editorial policy and readers’ likely views, to spice up the mixture and encourage lively responses to the Letters page.

Moreover, consider this: Mr Farage won’t win many converts among Independent readers. His efforts are far more likely  to be counterproductive, since they will doubtless  be met mostly with scorn and derision. If, however, he were to resume his regular column in the  Daily Express, he would  be far more dangerous. Contracted to  The Independent places  him where he can do the least harm.

Bob Gilmurray

Ely, Cambridgeshire

The legality of police relationships

In her article (25 October), Alice Jones writes that  for a man to get a woman  to have sex with him by “trickery” is tantamount  to abuse.

Unless legislation has removed it from the definition, it is rape if a man gets a woman to have sex with him by “force, fear or fraud”. It would be an interesting legal discussion as to whether police officers who pass themselves off to women as sharing their views and activities in pursuit of a particular issue and form a sexual relationship with them can be tried for rape.

One assumes that a defence would argue that the sex was consensual but if that consent was obtained by the kind of “trickery” to which Alice Jones refers, surely that is, in fact, fraud.

Over to you DPP/CPS.

John Crocker


European Commission is deaf to pleas for reform

David Cameron has angrily denounced the European Commission for demanding an extra £1.7bn contribution from British taxpayers. Last year, the UK’s net contribution to this undemocratic organisation was £8.5bn.

The UK is now being penalised because its economy has performed better than expected while countries like France and Germany, whose economies have under-performed, will receive multimillion-pound rebates. France will receive €1bn and former industrial power-house Germany will get €779m.

The Brussels behemoth and its gravy train thunders along immune to austerity and deaf to pleas for reform.

Staff are far too numerous, overpaid with gold-plated pensions, led by unaccountable mandarins who send out directives like confetti and who are about as useful. This unelected, unaccountable, overstaffed organisation has never had its accounts signed off by the auditors.

Cameron must act decisively and freeze further payments especially with Ukip now a force to be reckoned with.

Clark Cross

Linlithgow, West Lothian

If Mr Cameron is not going to pay this £1.7bn EU demand, why not take the political initiative and make a desperately needed gesture to the Ebola catastrophe and divert these very funds, on behalf of both the UK and EU, to this tragedy. This really would leave the European Commission shame-faced if anyone dare raise an objection.

Peter Gibson

Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

If the non-binding pledges announced by European governments in Brussels on Friday morning are an indication of the global response to climate change, the world and its inhabitants are in big,  big trouble.

Members of the European Commission and European Council championed the commitments for emission reductions, energy conservation, and the increase of renewable power sources that were contained in the agreement, but the targets simply are not strong enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the rate demanded by the science of climate change.

To describe 40 per cent emissions cuts as adequate or ambitious, as EU leaders are doing, is dangerously irresponsible. 40 per cent is off the radar of climate science. This deal does nothing to end Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future. It’s a deal that puts dirty industry interests ahead of citizens and the planet.

Alan Hinnrichs


Groucho Marx (1895-1977) once said: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

Our Prime Minister David Cameron could well say the same of the EU in an angry response to the shoddy treatment being handed out by a club that  is now in many ways far  too expensive to be a member of.

Dennis Forbes Grattan

Bucksburn, Aberdeen


Sir, One aspect that is overlooked in the NHS England Five-Year Forward View (“Crisis in the NHS”, leading article, Oct 23) is the significant role that digital technology can — and must — play in providing sustainable and affordable care. Targeted use of a range of social media and other low-cost technologies (such as apps to monitor diet and exercise) can be used to change behaviours and encourage healthy lifestyles. Further investment in telecare technology can immediately support the provision of sustainable at-home care to our ageing population. In the long term, technology such as wearable patches that monitor vital statistics will enable practitioners to provide significantly better focused care. With smart use of digital technology, a better NHS is possible without blowing the budget.
Andy Vernon
PA Consulting Group, London, SW1

Sir, Another reorganisation of the NHS may help to cut costs, but it will do nothing to solve the underlying problem with the health service, which is that the country simply cannot afford it. There is not the remotest possibility that we can go on providing medical care for all patients and all conditions, free of charge; we will either have to cut demand or cut supply. Attempts to limit, let alone cut, demand have proved useless. Nor is there much likelihood that preventive measures will do much to lessen demand. So we must cut supply. Perhaps the NHS can only be free for emergency treatment, and all routine treatment paid for by insurance or through means testing.
Professor Tony Waldron
London N11

Sir, The assertion by the chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens’s of a rigid barrier between primary and secondary care is true of today’s NHS and is one of the major failings in the patient journey. In the days before market forces were introduced there was a healthy relationship between local GPs and their consultant colleagues. I could pick up the phone and be able to talk to a specialist with whom I had developed a personal relationship over several years. In the present system, both primary care and secondary care are separate entities, both fighting for their share of a diminishing pot of cash. The only way I can talk to a consultant colleague nowadays is on the golf course at the weekend, and even this route of access is now threatened by Mr Cameron’s plan for seven-day working.
Dr AW Cairns
Swan Surgery, Petersfield, Hants

Sir, The solution to NHS funding (“NHS: the £8 billion black hole,” Oct 23) is a hypothecated tax. Rename National Insurance as “NHS Tax”. NI revenue is at a level close to NHS spend. The rate is set annually and increases to reflect the country’s projected NHS expenditure for the following year, including overspend for the previous year.So that everyone feels ownership of our National Health Service, contributions start at the minimum wage threshold and are paid on every pound of income above that.
Adrian Cartwright
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs

Sir, Reading about the plans of NHS England leaves me deeply concerned. What is worrying is the acceptance of of privatisation, with its emphasis on personalisation, local flexibility in rules and regulation and a focus on efficiencies.The key issues facing the NHS are chronic underfunding, wasteful internal markets and bankrupting PFI deals. We pay at least £5 billion annually on an internal market that does not improve patient care. We have just seen an unnecessary £3 billion top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The answer to the health of our nation is manifestly not efficiency savings and use of the private sector.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party, Worthing, W Sussex

Sir, In the same way that charges were introduced for dental treatment and prescriptions, charges of £10/£20 must be introduced for every visit to a GP. This will eliminate most of the unnecessary “casual” visits which take up far too much of the GP’s time. Also, as the result of the absurd agreement which the last Labour government concluded with the BMA, GPs’ salaries are the highest in Europe and should be frozen for at least the next five years in order to make them realistic.
W Anthony Pike

Sir, “Treatment Centres” are nothing new. Twenty-odd years ago, tired of years of ineffectual treatment for my chronically ingrown toenails, I asked my GP about removing them. No problem. He phoned another local practitioner who specialised in such matters, made me an early appointment, and within a few weeks the job was done.
Laurence Payne

Sir, Simon Stevens would like consultants in GP surgeries to “consult” with patients. Just imagine the number of hours consultants would spend in a car or train or bus. This would amount to a huge waste of specialist skills, of time spent doing no useful skilled work instead of operating on patients at their tertiary base hospital. Thousands of hours would be lost to reducing waiting lists lost at the cost of increasing pollution. What we need is a more efficient referral system to the centre.
David E Ward
Consultant in cardiology and electrophysiology, London SW17

Sir, It is disappointing that your editorial repeats the falsehood that the British Medical Association opposed the formation of the NHS. It was in the 1930s that the BMA produced plans for general medical, hospital and maternity services for the nation. Many of these themes were revisited in the 1942 Beveridge Report that looked at providing a national health service. Doctors’ opposition to parts of what was proposed at the time was related to the detail of the government’s initial plans for how the system would operate, not to the principle of a publicly funded and comprehensive service that was free at the point of use for all patients.
Dr Mark Porter
Chairman, BMA Council,
London, WC1

 An installation of clocks by French artist Arman outside the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris

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Published at 12:01AM, October 27 2014

Sir, Why must we change the clocks to bring forward the consequences of winter gloom (reports, Oct 24 & 25)? Why can’t we instead let summer time (GMT+1) run on during the winter months as a three-year experiment, or switch permanently to Single/Double Summer Time (SDST)?

Statistics provided at the end of an experimental period would prove whether lighter winter evenings reduced the number of children and cyclists killed on the roads. We could also gauge the impact on electricity bills, tourism receipts, children’s health and so on.

If the statistics proved generally positive then a balanced decision could be made to improve the quality of life across the nation by supporting any future bill on daylight saving. Will any party be bold enough to include this idea in their election manifesto?

Lord Tanlaw
House of Lords

Sir, The annual campaign to introduce double summer time is upon us once again but I’m not convinced its proponents have considered all the consequences. For example, sunset in June would be at about 10.30pm, so it would mean many of us having to go to bed while it is still daylight, even in the south. This would be a waste of daylight, not a saving of it, and would be particularly detrimental to thousands of schoolchildren who would be in the middle of the exam season. At the other end of the day, it would mean the dispiriting prospect of getting up in the dark for probably an extra two months of the year, with the additional heating and lighting costs that this would entail.

Christopher Allanson
Haywards Heath, W Sussex

Sir, Lighter evenings rather than darker mornings are cited in your leading article (Oct 25) as an outcome of the proposal to put our clocks one hour ahead of their current setting in both summer and winter. The benefits of doing so are far greater than this statement implies. The extra hour of daylight in the evenings would be enjoyed on every day of the year, but the gloomier hour in the mornings would only have to be put up with on the days of winter. At present, for most of the year the great majority of the population in effect wastes 200 to 300 daylight hours because they are still in bed — even in Scotland.

Dr Mayer Hillman
Senior fellow emeritus, Policy Studies Institute

Sir, There appears to be an avoidance of a simple fact: it is darker in winter than in summer. As Jacob Rees-Mogg has pointed out, we experimented with BST in winter in 1968-71. I remember those dark, dreary mornings, characterised by road accidents involving children. Nowadays most schools finish by 3.30pm which leaves plenty of time for them to get home before dusk, even in late December and early January. I agree that changing the clocks is a nuisance so why not leave them on GMT, our natural time, throughout the year? Prior to 1914 GMT was standard throughout most of western Europe: CET was only met by travellers east of the Rhine.

FR Julian G Shurgold
Sutton, Surrey

Sir, Anna Goodman is right to say that introducing additional daylight saving measures “would affect every child in the country, every day of the year”. But, believe me, it would bring enormous joy to us oldies — and to all those in between.

Henrietta Napier

Sir, There are convincing arguments for shifting clocks forward in Britain, though perhaps not by a whole two hours in summer and one in winter, as advocated by Rebecca Harris MP. The main objection has always been that in Scotland it would force people to leave home in the morning in the dark. This problem can surely be met by a decision, under devolved powers for Scotland, to adopt a later starting time there for work, schools and everything else, while accepting the change for clocks.

Edmund Gray
Iffley, Oxford

Sir, Norway and Sweden share the same time zone as France with the necessary adjustments for winter/summer times. Their farmers and schoolchildren cope perfectly well. There is no logical reason for the UK not to do the same thing.

Ingemar Lundegard
West Kingsdown, Kent

Sir, David Cameron says of the European Union’s demand for more money: “We are not going to write a cheque for €2 billion — it’s not happening” (reports, Oct 24 and 25). He must be relieved that the EU does not have the power his government has granted HMRC to demand and take from a taxpayer’s bank accounts whatever amount of tax it believes it is owed. In that case EU would be able to take the £1.7 billion whether he wrote a cheque or not.

Richard Tweed


Sir, My concern over the EU’s “demand” that the UK pays an additional £1.7 billion is whether Brussels is comparing like with like.

Our revised GDP figures contain allowances for illegal activities such as prostitution and drug-dealing, but do the GDPs of all the other member states include them? And precisely what allowances have been made in the Italian figures for activities by the mafia?

Until the bureaucrats explain the basis of their calculations, David Cameron is right to refuse to pay this additional impost.

W Anthony Pike


Sir, Our government should withhold payment of the £1.7 billion surcharge until the European Court of Auditors can give the European accounts a clean bill of health, which it has consistently failed to do since 1994.

Who, other than we taxpayers, would invest in an organisation whose accounts have not been signed off by an independent auditor for nearly 20 years?

John H Rosier

Wyre Piddle, Worcs

Sir, In advocating a new runway at Gatwick, Stewart Wingate (Business, Oct 23) perhaps unwittingly makes a powerful case for expansion at Stansted. He rightly states that truly global cities have a network of airports. What could be more logical than three major London airports: Heathrow to the west, Gatwick to the south and Stansted to the northeast?

Stansted is also more accessible to the neglected north and Midlands.

Mike Keedwell

Chelmsford, Essex

Sir, The government should think again about cutting access for ordinary people to the remedy of judicial review which lets people who are affected by government and other public authority decisions to ask the court to review their lawfulness. There is potentially deep injustice in their proposed changes.

Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, says that this remedy is abused by campaigners who want to use the process to challenge the government, cause delays or generate publicity for their cause at the expense of taxpayers. He says he is making change, in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, to “drive out meritless applications”.

The government intends to deny access to legal aid until a court has determined whether a judicial review is permissible. Applicants for judicial reviews will be exposed to the cost incurred in the pre-permission stage, which can be thousands of pounds. Clearly, lawyers may not be prepared or able to take on a case which carries the risk of receiving no funding.

Grayling also proposes to raise the level at which permission for judicial review will be granted, requiring more detailed deployment of the facts at permission stage. This will increase the financial risk for litigants because more work will be required without funding.

Why does the government intend virtually to deny to ordinary people the right to ask the courts to protect them from the impact of poor public authority decisions, including poor decisions by the government itself?

Signed by Police and Crime Commissioners: Olly Martins (Bedfordshire); Barry Coppinger (Cleveland); Alan Charles (Derbyshire); Ron Hogg (Durham); Tony Lloyd (Greater Manchester); Clive Grunshaw (Lancashire); Jane Kennedy (Merseyside); Vera Baird (Northumbria); Paddy Tipping (Nottinghamshire); David Jamieson (West Midlands); Mark Burns-Williamson (West Yorkshire)

Sir, I was somewhat amused to see Wilton described as a “sleepy Wiltshire village”(report, Oct 25). Wilton is a vibrant town that was once the capital of Wessex; it has had a royal charter since 1100. It is also home to Wilton House, where 70 years ago the D-Day landings were planned at the then home of Southern Command.

Councillor Phil Matthews

Mayor of Wilton


Fossil fuel is still required to manage and maintain wind farm equipment

Britain wind farms generated more power than its nuclear power stations last Tuesday due to freak weather conditions

6:56AM GMT 26 Oct 2014


SIR – Has anyone calculated how much fossil fuel is used in installing a wind-powered electricity generator?

The metal ores have to be mined, transported and smelted. The metals have to be made into suitable alloys and fabricated. The components are transported to the site, which has to be prepared and several hundred tonnes of cement poured to make stable foundations.

Once the generator is connected, more fossil fuel is then used in the management and maintenance of the equipment, which does not function continuously.

Keith Ferris
Coxheath, Kent

SIR – The BBC got excited last week over the news that – thanks to the present freak spell of windy weather – wind power broke its own records.

What they failed to mention was that, as there is no way of controlling the torque produced by a wind turbine, certain steam-driven turbines had to be throttled back to maintain the grid at 50 hertz.

What the BBC should be telling us is not how much electrical power wind is providing, but how much fossil fuel (if any) it is saving.

Brian Christley
Abergele, Conwy

Vision of the future?

SIR – Every year I watch The Apprentice in the hope that at least one member of the group may prove to possess some vaguely likeable quality.

But once again the show’s producers seem to have gone out of their way to gather together a bunch of unappealing, deluded, anti-social misfits.

The candidates are billed as being the brightest young entrepreneurs in the country. If that is true then it does not bode well for the future.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

Voices from the West

SIR – Scottish and Northern Irish accents seem ubiquitous on radio these days, but there are few regional English accents.

As a Bathonian myself, I struggle to think of any West Country accents on national radio or television news.

Robert Parker
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

Hairy economy

SIR – Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor, seems to be growing his hair.

Does its new length say anything about the future of interest rates, in the same way that hemlines are said to rise during boom times?

Jonathan Selby
Kew, Surrey

Judge Thokozile Masipa reads her sentence of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius  Photo: Themba Hadebe/AP

6:58AM GMT 26 Oct 2014


SIR – With criticisms aimed at the verdict of culpable homicide and some confusion over the manner in which Judge Thokozile Masipa prolonged its announcement in September, there was a sense leading up to last week’s sentencing of Oscar Pistorius that the High Court of South Africa still had things to prove. Rarely is a sentencing exercise subject to such intense international scrutiny in any jurisdiction.

The relative importance of the three fundamental issues of offence, offender and public interest – known in South African jurisprudence as the “triad of Zinn” (after the 1969 case in which they were articulated) – has been the topic of fierce debate by academics, media commentators and the public for the past month.

With the handing down of a five-year sentence, which will equate to a much shorter time in custody, these debates will continue. Yet one of the most significant aspects of the events in Pretoria was the reaction of the victim’s mother, June Steenkamp. On leaving the court and being confronted with the suggestion that the sentence was lenient, she replied: “It doesn’t matter, he’s going to pay something.”

This is an important reminder that those most closely affected by even the most heinous crimes are often seeking less a sense of retribution and more a degree of recognition, by the offender and the state, for the harms suffered along with a sense of closure – in so far as closure is possible in such tragic circumstances.

Professor Matthew Hall
Professor of Law & Criminal Justice
University of Lincoln

Going nowhere

SIR – Although I’m often bottlenecked in traffic on the A303 at Stonehenge, I’ll not rush to give my vote to the Conservatives, even if George Osborne’s Autumn Statement promises an infrastructure upgrade there (“Autumn spending spree that Tories hope will be road to voters’ hearts”, report, October 19).

In 2003 the Labour government announced plans for a tunnelled dual carriageway, only to abandon them following the general election.

Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Make chips not war

SIR – I can endorse Peter Myers’s comments about fish and chips (Letters, October 19).

In the late Fifties Professor Asa Briggs came to Leeds University as a guest lecturer. His subject was the socioeconomic effects of the Great Depression in the Thirties and he stated: “But for the widespread availability of fish and chips, we could have descended into civil war.”

In contrast to the “dirty rooms with primitive equipment and doubtful frying oil” referred to in Mr Myers’s letter, today we are fortunate to have many superb fish-and-chip outlets operating to the highest standards.

Tony Rogers
Bolton, Lancashire

Dr Beeching’s legacy

SIR – David Pearson (Letters, October 19) has raised the spectre of Dr Richard Beeching, chairman of British Railways from 1961-65, and outlined the present difficulties of travel between parts of West Yorkshire and Manchester.

The problems identified have been multiplied over the whole country since Dr Beeching’s “Reshaping of British Railways” report came out in 1963. Conservative and Labour governments were both to blame for carrying out a mass cull, when only some thinning-out of the system was required.

Excessive rationalisation removed so many important cross-country lines. By the late Sixties, whole areas of the country had either no railway or just minimal provision. Giant stations, like Birmingham Snow Hill and Nottingham Victoria, simply disappeared. One of the unfair results is that today’s railway network is focused much more upon London.

At least Mr Pearson can enjoy the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway where he lives.

The Revd Robert Weissman
London E18

Airborne nuisance

SIR – Oliver Pritchett (“The reality of having mobiles on planes”) hits the nail on the head. I am not a frequent flier but I dread the day that mobile phones may be used in passenger aircraft.

My only hope is that airlines will banish phone users to the rearmost seats of the cabin, as they used to do with smokers.

A J Laughton
Coxheath, Kent

Unhappy numbers

SIR – Can someone please tell me the best way to deal with the numerous and regular calls to my home and mobile with a recorded message from “Number Withheld”, offering to handle refunds on my payment protection insurance?

Keith Hewitt
Bollington, Cheshire

SIR – If I fell and injured myself while rushing to answer a telephone call that turned out to be an unsolicited cold call, could my hospital bill the cold call company for my treatment?

Ann Valerie Shepherd
Sarisbury Green, Hampshire

SIR – Raymond Blanc, the French chef, believes the demise of many varieties of English apple has been caused by our country’s sugar addiction.

The real reason stems from the requirement of supermarkets for apples that are uniform in size and which can be supplied in sufficient quantity to be displayed on the shelves of every branch in the country.

The growth of supermarkets led to the decline of the traditional greengrocer and wholesale fruit merchants who were happy to offer a variety of English apples. Supermarkets had no interest in procuring fruit from small orchards, irrespective of the superb quality of much of what was grown. The administration and hassle of dealing with small suppliers did not suit their business models.

With fewer outlets willing to sell their fruit, hundreds of apple-growers were forced to sell their land. Where trees laden with Cox’s, Russets and Bramleys once stood, now stand rows and rows of houses.

Supermarkets, and their insistence on a 12-month supply programme, have destroyed the pleasure and anticipation of new-season produce, and their fresh produce departments are bland and boring. The displays of fruit and vegetables seldom change and give the impression of having been manufactured, not grown.

The Loire Valley – one of Raymond Blanc’s preferred holiday destinations – was among the first areas outside Britain to benefit from the demand for quantity before quality. Their tasteless Golden Delicious apples fitted British supermarkets’ requirements to perfection.

George Wilkie
Hemingford Grey, Huntingdonshire

SIR – Janet Daley’s article resonated with me.

My frail 90-year-old aunt is expected to struggle to her GP’s surgery. Her GP had agreed to a home visit but then phoned up to cancel. One one occasion my aunt was told by the out-of-hours GP that a severe headache resulting in very little sleep for a couple of weeks “did not constitute an emergency”. The GP’s complete lack of empathy has been staggering.

The NHS is not the envy of the modern world. It operates a postcode lottery and has an ageist agenda. This bureaucratic monolith is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Don Bailey
Helsby, Cheshire

SIR – I am an expat living in Greece. In the past, I have always had an annual appointment with my GP in Britain to check on my diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A year ago, I was denied an appointment as I had been taken off the register by the GP practice manager without any consultation with my GP. The reason: I live outside the United Kingdom for more than six months of the year.

I have lived and worked in Britain all my life, paid all NHS contributions for over 30 years and I am now denied my basic right to NHS health care because I chose to live in another EU country when I retired.

I am a British passport holder: I pay tax on my pensions and can vote in British elections. Why is it that an immigrant who has not contributed tax has access to the NHS but I do not?

David Cavalier
Gaios, Paxos, Attica, Greece

SIR – An American friend on a visit fell and injured himself in our house last week.

Thus ensued two consultations by terrific paramedics and one trip to Frimley Hospital, where he received expert consultation, three X-rays, and an offer of crutches – all for free, much to his, and our, surprise. My treatment wouldn’t be free in America. When my wife required orthopaedic attention a few years ago in South Africa, we paid.

It was demoralising for us to see NHS staff providing their expertise and facilities on these terms. At least our doctor’s surgery charged for the necessary prescriptions and medication.

Mike Knight
Ascot, Berkshire

SIR – There will always be human error in the NHS but many mistakes happen because of management’s emphasis on paperwork rather than patient care. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, must realise that if nurses were allowed to do what they are trained to do rather than satisfying management demands, there would be fewer mistakes and more people willing to enter the profession.

Jacky Ellinger
Southampton, Hampshire

SIR – On a recent cruise I was presented, in microcosm, with the problems facing the NHS.

Of the 2,000 passengers present, the great majority of whom were British, about 50 per cent were overweight. Approximately 15 per cent of passengers were obese, and about 25 per cent of the passengers required a wheelchair or other mobility aid, mainly due to problems caused by being overweight.

It may be time for politicians to consider enabling the NHS to charge people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own health and well-being.

Alan Moss
Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire

SIR – The Labour Party is hoping to provide more funding for the NHS. Shouldn’t we look to tax that which puts the greatest burden upon health services?

As a retired dentist, I am referring to sugar. The greatest number of admissions among children is for the extraction of decayed teeth.

By raising tax on sweets, biscuits, cakes, puddings and sugary drinks, those who choose to buy these products will also help to fund any treatment that they might require due to excessive consumption of them.

Dr Clare Z Jackson
London SW1

The Local Government Authority has recommended that head teachers should allow parents to take their children on holiday during the school year without fear of a fine. Yay! Photo: Alamy

6:12PM GMT 26 Oct 2014


SIR – In the debate over whether parents should be able to take children on holidays during term-time (Judith Woods: “School rules on half-term breaks are crippling me, Features, October 25), one issue is regularly overlooked: Ofsted heavily penalises schools for absences, and will downgrade because of this.

Schools are under enormous pressure to improve standards, and this is a particular challenge when many parents do not value education.

Ofsted relies on heavy-handed tactics; perhaps it should be the target rather than pressured head teachers?

Barbara Pierce

SIR – Having a holiday is not a right; having children is a life-choice that requires sacrifices, one of which may be fewer holidays. I can only remember two outings in my entire childhood that did not involve visiting family; both lasted less than one week. What’s wrong with having just one holiday a year – or even missing a year to save up for the next summer?

A child’s education is far more important than a holiday – and before any parent tries to say that holidays are educational, visit a “family holiday” destination yourself and see how much children are learning from swimming in the hotel pool, looking for restaurants serving familiar British food, or sitting near the bar so their parents can enjoy themselves.

Marcia MacLeod
London NW6

SIR – I have every sympathy with parents who want to avoid paying the higher prices charged by travel companies once school holidays begin.

Why not penalise these companies for putting up their prices, or introduce some form of price controls during this period?

Rowan Simmonds
Ham, Wiltshire

SIR – Dental disease is entirely preventable. Prevention works long-term, whereas every other form of treatment is prone to long-term failure.

The cheapest and most effective public health measure would be to fluoridate Britain’s water supply. This combined with a dental health-care programme aimed at children should be the limit of taxpayer-based funding, with the poor alone being offered subsidised treatments.

This kind of provision would be highly effective, as it is in many other countries, and cost a fraction of the current system, in which funding is aimed mostly at reparative treatment.

Why should thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money be used to bribe new dental graduates to work for the NHS, as it has been in Scotland?

Dr Eilert Eilertsen

SIR – While on a visit to a primary school in Osaka, Japan, a couple of years ago, I was surprised to hear the familiar strains of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” being relayed over the school’s Tannoy. This signalled “tooth cleaning time”, and I saw rows of children brushing their teeth vigorously in time to the music. It was a regular part of the children’s day, just as washing hands at the appropriate time was. Why should that not be the case in Britain?

Rosalind Hallett

Blades on the ground

SIR – During the Second World War, the RAF in the Middle East sent a message to London requesting 600 airscrews. The message was misread as aircrews and 600 airmen were sent out round the Cape. A later signal read: “For airscrews read propellers”.

Adrian Holloway
Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire

A classic request

SIR – I am a former Radio 3 listener. This is what I want as I wake up: a posh girl or boy introducing classical music. Some time later, the exercise is repeated. That’s it.

What I don’t want is the news every 15 minutes, members of the public droning down the phone, the BBC advertising itself, the presenter telling me what I might hear 15 minutes hence and frequent encouragement to contact the programme by all possible methods.

Edwin Prescott
Kingston Gorse, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Sir, – Robert Grant (“Philosophy in our schools is a necessity”, Education Opinion, October 21st) argues his case well. He is not the first to argue it. But there is absolutely no hope of his wish being implemented. How could it happen when contemporary Irish culture resolutely values only one kind of creative writing, namely fiction?

Aosdána is the living proof of this. This state-sponsored encouragement of creativity admits even photographers to membership but excludes philosophers. The recent institution of a Laureate for Irish Fiction awarding €150,000 to the winner is merely the latest evidence of this resolute cultural bias.

Week in, week out, the absence of books by Irish philosophers at home and abroad from the book-review pages hammers home that the administrators of Irish culture have no regard for such work (if truth be told, they fear it). They have brought about that in common parlance “Irish writing” means only Irish fiction.

Our acquiescence in this bias, unique in Europe and reflected in the shallowness of Irish public discourse, shows that it accords with our nature as a nation loving the artful creation of made-up stories, fearful of minds probing and presenting the realities of the human condition and the present-day world. To introduce such minds to our schoolchildren would in the Irish case be offensively anti-cultural; simply too much against the grain to be practically possible.


Dublin 4.

Sir, – Various reporters and commentators in The Irish Times have, rightfully, pointed out that the Ebola outbreak in west Africa contains lessons for all of us, beyond the obvious immediate need of containing the disease.

Those lessons are that we can no longer afford to treat social and economic problems abroad as of little relevance to us here in Ireland.

If the world had not ignored the inadequacy of healthcare and public services in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the situation would not have snowballed into a major global crisis, with ramifications for us here. Furthermore, if the global community had acted sooner, the response to the Ebola outbreak would have required far less resources.

It is accepted wisdom that prevention is always better than a cure. Yet, when it comes to global crises, the public and our politicians prefer to act only in the face of (media covered) disaster.

This week 30 years ago, the world was alerted to the famine in Ethiopia. Michael Buerk’s broadcast of a “biblical famine” went viral and galvanised celebrity-led action of an unprecedented scale – obscuring the fact that aid agencies had alerted the world months earlier, but, in the words of BBC correspondent Mark Doyle “famines are sexy, predicting them is not”.

It is high time that we as citizens and policymakers accept the fundamental interdependence of our societies and lives. We cannot continue to treat our economic and social challenges here in Ireland as somehow divorced from realities in other parts of the world.

An investment in the type of structures and initiatives that build resilient societies is clearly preferable to “fire-fighting” after poverty and insecurity have erupted into a full-fledged crisis.

Ebola, Ethiopia, climate chaos and Rana Plaza in Bangladesh remind us that as citizens of Ireland, we must acknowledge that we are citizens of a global village, where situations of injustice, poverty and institutional weakness are a problem for all of us. – Yours, etc,




1-2 Baggot Court,

Lower Baggot Street,

Dublin 2.

A chara, – Michael Jansen suggests that among the solutions to the horror taking place in Syria is a programme of “re-education” (“Islamic State is a cult that cannot be bombed out of existence”, October 20th). Possibly even as she was writing these words, an unnamed 17-year-old boy was entering into his final moments of agony in Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital. He died after enduring an excruciating three days on a metal cross in the town square. His crime? Apostasy, leaving Islam to become a Christian, along with an accusation of espionage. His killers proudly posted images of his battered body on social media.

I am sure I am not alone in longing and praying for a peaceful solution to the barbarities taking place under this regime.

Ms Jansen’s programme of education needs to begin now; could she please provide some concrete examples as to how it might take place? There is no time to wait – Islamic State has many more crosses of metal and wood standing in the public squares of Raqqa and other towns. These are part of their own educational programme; to teach all who see them of the fate that awaits those who oppose them in any way. – Is mise,


Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald announced additional terror offences in the Seanad on October 7th and expressed concern about the “recruitment and training for terrorist activities” (“Three new terrorism offences introduced in Bill”, October 7th). This decision is to be welcomed.

Terrorising people is a very serious crime, especially when the tools of terrorism including horrific killings, torture and most serious abuses of women and children. The Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria is guilty of all these crimes but it is not alone.

The state of Saudi Arabia is reported to have executed at least 26 people in the month of August 2014 by publicly beheading them. Drone strikes by the US have killed over 2,400 people over the past five years, almost half of whom were innocent civilians, causing widespread terror in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, in clear breach of international laws.

Ms Fitzgerald stated that the Irish terrorism legislation was to combat terrorist activity and ensure that “there were no gaps in Irish laws by dealing with more subtle and indirect aspects of modern terrorism”. The Minister also said that “there is considerable concern across Europe and elsewhere at the phenomenon of individuals travelling to conflict areas in the Middle East”. We should expect then that the new anti-terrorist legislation will include sanctions against Islamic State and states such as Saudi Arabia, as well as steps to prevent recruitment of Irish citizens into foreign armies that have been fighting unjustified wars causing terror in the Middle East, including the UK and US.

Should we also expect that armed “individuals travelling to conflict areas in the Middle East” through Shannon airport will be arrested and tried under this new Irish legislation? – Yours, etc,


Castletroy, Limerick.

Mon, Oct 27, 2014, 01:06

First published: Mon, Oct 27, 2014, 01:06

Sir, – David McConnell (October 13th) should be commended not just for bringing a number of the major issues into clearer focus, but for his tolerance towards Christians. It is indeed refreshing to see such a prominent member of the Humanist Association allow that Christianity is itself a humanism; all the more so given the tendency of some humanists to assume that the very word “humanism” is commensurate with “atheism”.

Nonetheless, it is understandable that Patrick Davey (October 20th) should find in Prof McConnell’s attitude that “limitation of allowable evidence” that some would apply not only to science but to the empirical philosophical tradition as a whole.

A famous comic stage routine, now of venerable age, which emerged, I believe, in the closing years of the Austro-Hungarian empire, has achieved a certain longevity because it has been interpreted as a satire on positivism (or science in its most assertive form). On the stage is revealed a man walking around in circles under a street-lamp, apparently searching for something he has lost, with the benefit of the limited illumination the lamp affords. He is joined by a second man, who asks: “Have you lost something?” To which the first man replies: “Yes, a valuable coin”. So the second man joins the first in his circular quest. Nothing is found. The second man then asks the first: “Are you sure you lost it here?” To which the first man replies, pointing to the surrounding darkness; “No, I lost it over there – but there’s no light over there . . .”

Rather than spell out the allegory, it seems more appropriate, given the context, to let this stand as a parable. Readers are well able, one assumes, to join the necessary dots. One might further add the pithy admonition given by Blaise Pascal: that there are not one, but “two extremes” – not only “to exclude reason”, but “to admit reason only”.

The interpretation of our existential situation requires the application of the full range of our faculties; and there are those, not only Christians, who feel that a strict reliance on reason and empiricism will not disclose all we feel the need to know. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – I find it ironic that most of my godfaring friends believe in only the god or gods of one religion and not in the gods of all religions. There is much documentation on the number of deities that have been documented since the beginning of recorded history. (I am basing this on the invention of writing by the Sumerians 6,000 years ago but other measures are possible.) Records put this number somewhere between 2,870 and over 12 million. The current Hindu religion records more that 300 gods at present.

Using the lower number here, then most of the Irish monotheistic religious would agree with atheists on at least 2,869 of the documented gods and all 300-plus of the Hindu gods. The only difference between the sides is the tiny increment of extending that agreement to one further god. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – On a recent blustery morning, a large contingent of Mallow people and friends paraded through the grounds of Trinity College Dublin to honour one of the college’s most illustrious alumni, Thomas Davis. The occasion was the launching of a commemorative stamp by An Post.

Marching through the main gates on to one of the busiest junctions in Dublin they processed to the Davis monument on College Green to lay memorial wreaths to commemorate the bicentenary of their fellow townsman.

The event recalled another time in September 1945 when tens of thousands attended a full week of commemoration events to Davis and the Young Irelanders. President Seán T Ó Ceallaigh dedicated the site at College Green on which a monument would be erected to honour this 19th-century hero who preached a gospel of multicultural respect and Irish nationality. In the early 1960s, one of Ireland’s foremost sculptors, Edward Delaney, was commissioned to create the long awaited monument. The sculpture was not without its critics, a Dublin Opinion cartoon declared “sixpence to see its inner beauty”, the same price as a trip to the top of Nelson’s Pillar before it was blown to oblivion.

Pranksters occasionally embellished the fountain in front of the monument with soap powder, a tradition that continues to this day.

But Davis stands magnanimous above it all. He believed that the purpose of politics was to work for all the people and not just the privileged few. He was a nation-builder whose enduring legacy was to articulate the ideals and ambitions of our country.

The town of Mallow is immensely proud of its connection. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – May I add a Dublin dimension to Patrick Freyne’s account (“A day rehearsing an opera for farters and drunks”, October 17th) of the lowbrow origins of The Magic Flute ?

With the opening night fast-approaching and the opera not finished, Mozart was locked in the summer house of Vienna’s Freihaus Theater until it was completed. A ready supply of wine, oysters and sopranos increased Mozart’s productivity – the overture being completed with two days to spare. Whether this frenetic activity contributed to his early death just two months later is not known.

Mozart conducted the premiere of The Magic Flute from the fortepiano with his sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, in the demanding coloratura role of the Queen of the Night. The polyglot, German polymath, Carl Ludwig Giesecke, the stage manager, took the part of the First Slave.

Giesecke was later appointed professor of mineralogy at the Royal Dublin Society.

After settling in Ireland, where he lived for 20 years until his death, Giesecke claimed that he, not Emmanuel Schickaneder, wrote the libretto of The Magic Flute. Though the claim has never been fully substantiated, the accurately described alchemical allegories in the opera would have come easily to a trained scientist.

Giesecke lived in Hardwicke Place in Dublin and was buried in the adjoining churchyard of St George’s Church, where a memorial plaque, making no mention of his operatic career, was erected in his honour.

I write this letter on the site of the Freihaus Theater; at the door of my apartment a charming stained-glass window, “Dedicated to the Genius Mozart”, marks the spot where he wrote his greatest opera. – Yours , etc,



Sir, – A review of the efficiency and extent of bus lanes in Dublin similar to that carried out in Liverpool as suggested by Frank Greaney (October 18th) sounds like a useful exercise. I’m certainly aware of several locations where their presence and times of operation is now questionable. However, there is another aspect of Dublin traffic movement that also needs urgent review – traffic lights.

Dublin, compared to similar UK and continental cities, has an extraordinary amount of traffic light locations; and at some of these locations an even more extraordinary number of individual light fittings.

Recently, while stopped at red lights at a Dublin quays junction, I counted 11 displays where two had successfully maintained order for decades.

Furthermore all these were on stainless steel poles and brackets which are seriously expensive compared to traditional galvanised or painted ones – and more suited to Dubai’s budget than Dublin’s.

Occasionally one encounters traffic light failures, with common sense and courtesy keeping the traffic moving. Perhaps it would be worth seeing what would happen to traffic if some lights were turned off as an experiment? Chaos or improvement?

I think we may be surprised and save a fair bit of electricity as a bonus.

Something else that happens in the Liverpool area is the operation of some sets of traffic at rush hour only or as required.

Maybe our 33rd county is pointing the way to move? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – In her article “Tech sector needs to dig far deeper in philanthropy field” (October 23rd), Karlin Lillington writes: “Multinationals are part of their local community and should be involved in giving back to it”. The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland could not agree more. That is why we commissioned independent measurement of our members’ social impact in Ireland. The study found that our member companies support over 4,000 community-based projects in Ireland and they support the donation of 160,000 volunteer hours by their employees to these projects every year. This is in addition to the very significant financial and non-financial donations made by our companies and their employees.

Our member companies are very proud to have created 130,000 direct and 100,000 indirect jobs in Ireland. We are equally proud that, every day, we are enhancing lives in communities throughout our country. – Yours, etc,



American Chamber

of Commerce Ireland,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Winter is closing in and footpaths have become dangerously covered in wet leaves. Most road-sweeping nowadays, particularly in suburban areas, is undertaken by sweeper trucks that have little impact on footpath clearance.

I would appeal to the local authorities to make the clearing of leaf-covered footpaths at this time of year a priority.

Footpaths in this condition pose a particular risk to elderly pedestrians. A fall on these slippy paths can have life-changing consequences for some elderly victims. For others, the fear of a catastrophic fall can confine them to their homes, depriving them of much-needed pedestrian mobility.

Local authorities have not been addressing this very real problem in recent years. Perhaps budgetary constraints were to blame. Now that local authority funding has been put on a more solid basis, it is hoped that the necessary resources will be allocated. I would ask that the Minister for the Environment would encourage the local authorities in this regard.

Individual businesses and households can also assist by keeping their footpath frontage clear and safe. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Mahatma Gandhi once said “recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him”.

Gandhi’s words – in a world torn asunder by conflicts, wrestling with urbanisation, climate change, income and wealth inequalities, diseases, chronic poverty, food insecurity and water scarcity – are more pertinent now than at any other time. It is not that we were unaware of the landing of Ebola on our doorsteps – this is, after all, the 25th outbreak in our contemporary history. We simply were unprepared at best and indifferent at worst.

We are in the grip of fear, bewilderment, indecisiveness and rambling thoughts fed by private pharmaceutical companies interested in commercialising their stockpiles of vaccinations. I wonder where were the millions of doses of Ebola vaccines during the past outbreaks?

We knew Ebola is like cancer – a remorseless, merciless and unrelenting disease. We knew Ebola was bound to ravage countries emerging from decades of civil strife with broken health systems.

Why then did we fail to read the writing on the wall? The answer is simple and straightforward: underestimating the value of human rights is what brought us to this grim set of affairs.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London, England


Water charges

In ‘Real dangers to lives if meter protests escalate’ (Editorial, October 23) the author says the following in relation to the recent alleged attacks on water meter installers in parts of Dublin city: “if true, these attacks represent even more damning evidence – if such evidence were required – of the extent of the failure of the Government to adequately explain and implement one of its key priorities”.

I agree that the peaceful rallies in recent days are demonstrative of strong public disillusionment and confusion about the water charges. However, I cannot accept that a physical or verbal attack on any person could ever be a manifestation of frustration at a Government for inadequate clarity and implementation of a new measure.

People who spit at water meter installers whose work they disagree with and at whom – entirely illogically – they shout the word “paedophiles” are not expressing their frustration at the water charges. Their behaviour is merely symptomatic of their own ignorance and lack of engagement with their fellow citizens, it symbolises nothing more.

They do not deserve to be recognised as ‘protesters’ in the same way as those who peacefully make their frustrations known by walking down streets holding placards or by writing to newspapers. Including those people in the same category is disrespectful to the majority who wish to protest on issues by speaking their truth without causing undue harm to others.

Sinead O’Loghlin

Portobello, Dublin 8

Could the Government have thought up of a more difficult, controversial and inefficient way to introduce another tax as they have done with water charges? It defies any sense of respect to the people of this country. They are prepared to bully us into paying yet another tax, this one on a commodity that is a basic human right.

Of course it costs to produce water. I’m well aware of that, but I should think that somewhere in among paying income tax, VAT and property tax, that a basic right is covered. Evidently not with this latest extortion.

What is equally galling is that we fund the wheels of this rollercoaster with monies gleaned from the property tax, which we paid on their good word as being for local services. Are we foolish or were we conned?

I, for one, will not pay it. I won’t pay it as I cannot pay more, in financial terms and in principle. Taxpayers are becoming fish in the proverbial barrel for this government. We have already been asked to pay for the barrel, now we must pay for the water.

Name and address with editor


Ungrateful ‘Scorpion’ banks

Your editorial piece on Friday – suggesting that Irish banks must never forget that they wouldn’t have a business if it wasn’t for the Irish taxpayer bailing them out – was admirable, if not simply academic.

I don’t doubt that the boards of banks across Europe know to whom they owe a huge thanks. However, like the scorpion from the fable, it is not in a bank’s nature to be grateful. A bank is a living, eating, drinking, all-consuming organism that’s only philosophy is making money.

It is the job of legislators to legislate against the type of mess the financial world has endured in the recent past. It would also be funny, if it wasn’t for the fact that how we deal with white-collar crime in Ireland is so tragic. In Ireland if a person is killed and a suspect is charged and convicted of murder, the guilty person goes to prison.

However, if an anomaly is discovered in relation to an account and somebody’s pension or savings are stolen then it is described as a system error and the State picks up the bill.

Darren Williams

Sandyford, Dublin 18


Kenny should look to the future

I had to catch my breath while viewing ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’. About five minutes into the show Vincent starting complimenting Enda Kenny. I was shocked (in a good way). Vincent said he found Mr Kenny very impressive, he got the hang of the job and was more than able to deal with the job and was becoming quite capable and spoke knowledgeably about many things without notes.

This is the same Vincent Browne that a couple of years ago suggested that Enda Kenny should go into a dark room with a gun and a bottle of whiskey. How the times have changed.

I personally think that Enda Kenny is doing a good job as Taoiseach. I agree with a lot of his decisions. One negative is still blaming the old government for today’s troubles.

May I suggest he forgets what happened in the past and make it happen in the present for a better future.

Kevin Devitte

Westport, Co Mayo


Cumann na mBan

Kate Casey’s contention that Cummann na mBan supported regime change that “denied them their basic rights” (Letters, October 20) is based on two misconceptions.

The Free State that developed out of the dust of the Anglo-Irish treaty and subsequent Civil War, was not “the regime change” that most Cummann na mBan members struggled for. In many cases Cumann na mBan were even more vociferous opponents of the Free State than their IRA brothers, fathers and sons.

Their opposition was based on the grounds that it was not the republican ideal they had fought for, but a different form of state imposed on this country under threat of “terrible war”. This significant fact is overlooked by most critics of Ireland’s republican roots.

It was a Free State government that removed women from juries in 1925. Secondly, to assume that Cumann na mBan members considered contraceptives “a right” is to project one’s own feminist politics onto a very different type of early 20th-century feminist movement.

Lastly, Ms Casey’s assertion that “all significant innovations were Anglo-American” is breathtaking in its Anglocentrism. One could point out the litany of examples to the contrary, eg – Louis Pasteur (French) – pasteurisation and germ theory; Marie Curie (Polish) – radiology; Gregor Mendel (Hungarian) – genetics. Or one could add for balance that Anglo-American ‘innovations’ have included the tank and atomic bomb.

Nick Folley

Carrigaline, Co Cork

Irish Independent


October 26, 2014

26 October 2014 Ringing

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the drive some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor won’t answer the phone!

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


David Redfern – obituary

David Redfern was a photographer who captured the Beatles, Louis Armstrong and Jimi Hendrix on tour

David Redfern, music photographer

David Redfern, music photographer, at the London Jazz Festival in 2009 Photo: PHOTOSHOT/GETTY

6:00PM BST 25 Oct 2014


David Redfern, who has died aged 78, was a British photographer noted for capturing jazz musicians and rock stars in live performance.

During the 1960s Redfern became a fixture of London’s jazz scene, photographing artists from home-grown talent such as George Melly and Kenny Ball to visiting greats like Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. He spent his nights darting between smoky Soho venues such as the Marquee Club on Wardour Street and Ronnie Scott’s, a short late-night dash away on Frith Street. “He’s the Cartier-Bresson of jazz,” said the drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich.

However, Redfern’s career was not defined by the genre: “I guess I was in the right place at the right time: swinging London at the start of the Sixties. The British trad jazz phenomenon of the late Fifties was followed by the British rock and pop explosion.”

As the decade progressed he started photographing acts who were recording shows at television studios. On these occasions he took many of his best-known early shots, including a series of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones performing on a tiny box stage in Birmingham for Thank Your Lucky Stars.

From the 1960s Redfern enjoyed unrivalled access to the biggest acts. He photographed John Lennon in top hat and feathers fooling around on the Magical Mystery Tour shoot; Jerry Lee Lewis pummelling his piano with a cowboy-booted foot; and Frank Sinatra lighting up the Albert Hall.

Of all his photographs it was, perhaps, those of Jimi Hendrix which proved most popular. “I was never really into rock ’n’ roll, you know, but Hendrix was special,” he said. “He had a charisma, which helps so much as a photographer, when you have to capture some of that on film.” The stars, however, could be unpredictable — Marlene Dietrich, for example, once had him thrown out of a venue. “If the musician has an attitude, or gives me aggro as a photographer,” said Redfern, “I won’t hang around longer than I have to. You just get the picture and get out.”

The Beatles by David Redfern, taken at Alpha Television Studios in Birmingham in 1963

David Redfern was born on June 7 1936 at Ashbourne in Derbyshire. As a young man he worked for Kodak. “This was to be the last proper job I held,” he later recalled. “With it went all the securities of proper employment. I didn’t know anything about business, but I did know how to take a picture.”

In 1965 the UK Tamla-Motown Revue arrived, and Redfern was there to capture the national tour in vivid colour. Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles played a whistle-stop 36 shows, from London to Glasgow.

“Getting the picture was a challenge. You had, perhaps, a couple of numbers in which to do it,” Redfern said. “My favourite artist was Marvin Gaye. But he wasn’t easy to photograph. He had all these wonderful arm movements.”

Marvin Gaye at Television House in Kingsway, London,1964, by David Redfern

Fuelled by his success in Britain, Redfern began attending the big international festivals, including the jazz events in Antibes, Newport and Montreux, as well as stadium rock shows. In America he photographed Hendrix, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong.

In 1980 Redfern became Frank Sinatra’s official tour photographer, replacing Terry O’Neill. He was even asked to take the singer’s passport photograph: “His people got in contact because they wanted a photographer they could trust. I just took four or five pictures, click click click, and handed the film over. I was nervous as hell!”

Redfern also represented other music photographers and built up a vast picture library which grew into the defining record of rock, pop and jazz performance during the past half-century. In 1989 he moved the library into premises in Notting Hill. “We represent over 400 photographers,” he said later, “so we’ve got people employed here just to constantly scan old dupes and negatives for the digital archive.”

In 1995 Redfern’s images of Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins were included in a series of 10 jazz postage stamps issued by the US post office.

Jimi Hendrix peforming at the Royal Albert Hall, photographed by David Redfern

He published two books of his photographs: Jazz Album (1980), a survey of his pictures of the jazz world; and The Unclosed Eye (1999), in which he offered a selection of 300 photographs from his life’s work.

Since 1992 Redfern had been president of the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies. Although he had been suffering from cancer since 2009, he continued to work until the end of his life, documenting the Vienne Jazz and Juan les Pins festivals this summer. He had hoped to photograph the London Jazz Festival next month.

He sold Redferns Music Picture Library to Getty Images in 2008.

Looking back over his career, he acknowledged that it had perfectly melded his two loves: music and photography. “Of course, the 64,000-dollar question was: could I make a living at it?” he said. “But there was no question that that was what I was going to do. And, what else could I do? I was definitely not up for snapping weddings and parties.”

Redfern received the Milt Hinton Award for Excellence in jazz photography in 2007 and, earlier this year, a Parliamentary Jazz Award for Services to Jazz, presented to him at the Houses of Parliament.

He is survived by his wife Suzy and three children.

David Redfern, born June 7 1936, died October 23 2014


green belt herts The green belt round Stevenage in Hertfordshire. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

Rowan Moore’s discussion of the green belt (“Is it time to rethink the green belt?”, New Review) was partly based on the premise that green belts have proved inviolate since they were first designated. The permanence of green belt is one of its essential characteristics, but this does not mean that green belts are truly unchanging.

Planning policy has always allowed for the review of green belt boundaries in appropriate circumstances. If there are no better alternatives, and green belts do need to be reviewed, the Campaign to Protect Rural England would prefer to see this done strategically rather than through the current piecemeal erosion. Any review would have to take into account the needs of the whole of the relevant green belt area and consider the reasons for designating land in the first place.

Ultimately, the green belt does not exist to provide recreational land or to protect landscape and biodiversity; it is there to protect the character of towns and villages and encourage urban regeneration.

Matt Thomson

Campaign to Protect Rural England

London SE1

The problem with the green belt lies in our need to own space. The Englishman’s view of his home as his castle has led to the two-dimension sprawl of matchbox houses across suburbia. Shared outdoor space could lead to a more innovative approach to building on the green belt. We could improve the green belt, building under and around it, interlocking with each other and sharing space in three dimensions. Shared parks, allotments and play areas could save space. It’s time to rethink how we plan our suburbs.

George Wade

Architect, ALL Design

London SW11

Oxford is no longer a tight-knit medieval town with a few charming Victorian suburbs; it is economically and socially intertwined with the towns and villages around it, which, as much as the green belt countryside, represent the “setting” of Oxford. This interdependency makes transport a key issue and road congestion as well as air pollution are at crisis level.

Planning functions for this city region are in the hands of five different authorities, while a sixth, the county council, is responsible for transport policy. Oxford and Oxfordshire cry out for properly coordinated, rigorous planning and transport policies based on pragmatic common sense, and objective analysis of the facts, not tainted by political antagonism.

A university-commissioned report last year, The Oxford Innovation Engine, identified the potential for an additional contribution from the region to the national economy of “at least” £1bn, if the constraints were removed. Foremost of the constraints is the infrastructure – housing, employment space and transport systems. We have to look not at how we can prevent development but how we can do it to the benefit of future generations.

Suggesting that all we need to do to preserve the setting of our city, towns and villages, to prevent “urban sprawl” and to safeguard our countryside is to keep green belts intact is naive. Our own report, Oxford Futures , sets out some suggestions for a way forward. To denounce these ideas on the grounds that they might fail as a result of corruption, while clinging to patently inadequate, 65-year-old legislation in the belief that this way lies salvation from the concrete jungle, is nonsense.

Peter Thompson

Chairman, Oxford Civic Society

Your article did not include the equally important national parks. Here on the overcrowded south coast urban strip, our green belt is effectively the new South Downs national park and I dare say others fulfil similar functions in other parts of England. All play an important part in preserving natural landscape heritage and once built on they are gone forever.

Dr James Walsh

West Sussex county councillor


W Sussex

fat man Will obesity be classified as a disability? Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Your front-page story “NHS chief urges hospital staff to join gyms in anti-obesity fight” (News) highlights how important an issue obesity is becoming for employers but a case currently before the European court of justice may have the effect of treating obesity as a disability.

English law doesn’t attribute blame; it only looks at the employee’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Where an employee’s ability is considerably hampered by obesity the employer has a duty to consider making reasonable adjustments, no matter what the underlying cause may be, and implementing reasonable changes could be costly.

Provided schemes such as subsidised gym membership are aimed at all employees, and participation is voluntary, then they do not give rise to any particular concerns. But where employers form individual judgments about the causes of obesity, possibly ones about lifestyle or eating habits, without medical input, they may be accused of acting on stereotypical assumptions. Claims of discrimination may ensue, depending on whether obesity is treated as a disability.

Ellen Temperton

Lewis Silkin LLP

London EC4

Higher education policy wrong

In “The Observer was wrong: our higher education policy is progressive” (News), David Willetts states that increasing the full-time undergraduate fee so that it covers the full cost of teaching most subjects is “a progressive policy spreading educational opportunity and funding it on a fair basis”. What he does not acknowledge is that by introducing what is in effect a voucher system the government has completed the task of turning higher education into a private good, the benefits accruing to the individual alone, rather than to both the individual and society. Willetts should admit that, as in the NHS, social welfare and social housing, the aim of the government’s higher education policy is to shrink the state and privatise what is left.

Roger Brown

Emeritus professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University

A clear statement from the pope

The Roman Catholic church will always be judged on how it engages with victims and survivors of abuse (“The sins of the fathers”, Magazine). Unfortunately, the account of the experience of victims in relation to the then Verona Fathers reflects a stark difference of attitude from that of Pope Francis.

I was present at the mass where Pope Francis addressed all victims and survivors of abuse in a Catholic church setting. Where the leader of the now Comboni Missionaries indicates that if anyone (and note the qualification) has been hurt by one of its priests his thoughts and prayers are with them, Pope Francis identified the experience of survivors of abuse and humbly asked forgiveness. He even more profoundly begged forgiveness of those who were not believed or listened to and he praised the courage of survivors in coming forward, recognising how difficult that is in itself.

Evidence shows that paedophiles have on average at least four victims and often significantly more the longer they remain undetected, a profoundly painful reality that all of us in the Catholic church need to recognise. Victims and survivors of abuse will only believe statements from the church when private practice matches public pronouncements.

Pope Francis this year, by approving the removal from ministry of an archbishop accused of abuse who was a papal nuncio and placing him under house arrest and subject to trial in Vatican State, is making a clear statement of intent to all victims.

“The sins of our fathers” shows just how far we yet have to go. Thank you for publishing it.

Danny Sullivan

Chair, National Catholic Safeguarding Commission for England and Wales

TV drama needs a new approach

In his advocacy of contemporary television (“Is British drama taking enough risks?”, New Review), Dominic Savage ignores the way the centralised economics of the industry dictate the kind of programmes that television offers.  In the 50s and 60s, one-off plays made economically in the studio went out to huge audiences.

Savage argues that “at its best, British TV drama is now able to rival that of films”. Fifty years ago, teledrama was streets ahead of British cinema. All teledrama except soaps is now made on film and uses the grammar of cinema, much of it wasted on all but the swankiest domestic screens. Viewers are happy to watch sitcoms and chat shows made in studios on multi-camera video. They would surely accept drama made like this. Such a form would allow writers to widen the output’s narrow consensus.

W Stephen Gilbert

Corsham, Wilts

Why Labour voters love Nicola

Although a Labour member for over 50 years, I must join Kevin McKenna in welcoming the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first minister (“A timely ascent to the throne by Nicola Sturgeon”, Comment). She worked in the deprived area of Drumchapel for five year and she uses the word “equality” more often than all the Labour leaders put together. If Labour wants to stop her winning the votes of the many Labour supporters who backed independence, then it must offer them policies that tackle poverty, oppose the welfare cuts and promote public services.

Bob Holman



The country has needed a constitutional convention for at least a century (“Stop changing laws behind closed doors”, 19 October).

If it is to serve any useful purpose it would not just look at the West Lothian question and devolution in general but at the monarchy, the House of Lords, the voting system and the relationship between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

The Americans sorted this out over the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia but British refusal to think that there is ever anything better than muddling along ensures that a convention will never happen. Shame.

Simon Sedgwick-Jell


David Goodhart is over-optimistic if he thinks that extending the time immigrants must wait before they can use the public services and benefits system will allay opposition to them (“My proposal that could keep us in Europe”, 19 October). The standard complaint is that they take our jobs and live off benefits. Letting them in provided they have work would simply emphasise the first prong of the fork.

Harvey Cole

Winchester, Hampshire

The comment by Martin Vander Weyer on the failure of capitalism is both timely and apt (“Shareholders are the only ones who can heal capitalism now”, 19 October). Excessive executive pay is at the heart of the problem. Regardless of whether a company has performed well executives receive higher pay awards and bonuses. And pay at the bottom is frozen or insufferably low.

Some of these employees will claim benefits to support themselves and their families. In other words the state is subsidising business and executive pay.

Ideally, shareholders should put a stop to this. But many of them are large companies whose own executives enjoy high pay. Small shareholders are too few and widely dispersed. A concerted effort is needed from all quarters; the Opposition, the trade unions and those shareholders who see beyond their short-term interests. Let’s put an end to such self-interested greed.

Elizabeth Chell

Lyndhurst, Hampshire

The Question Time audience was right to show its disapproval of Angela Eagle’s point-scoring at Lord Freud’s embarrassment over his disability remarks (“We owe a debt to Lord Freud” 19 October). We are in danger of becoming a society in which those expressing off-message remarks on sensitive but important issues are pilloried by sanctimonious zealots who believe only one politically correct viewpoint is possible. Whatever happened to nuanced debate?

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

I was intrigued by Simmy Richman’s piece about the adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes under the title Stink Foot at an east London theatre. Stinkfoot was the name of the first venture into musical theatre by the late great Bonzo Dog alumnus Vivian Stanshall, which somehow made it into the West End. It apparently featured singing lobsters, but maybe Viv would have been impressed by a later loftier conception bearing his work’s name alluding to Newton’s Principia Mathematica in which the cast were covered in treacle. Is writer/director Jeff James a closet Bonzo fan?

Simon Ashley

Harwich, Essex

It is preposterous for the European Union to demand an additional £1.7bn from the UK just because we have been prudent and are performing economically better than poor old Germany or France.

Dennis Forbes Grattan

Bucksburn, Aberdeen

I was disappointed to read in Steve Connor’s article on Jack the Ripper that “Kosminski …. died in a lunatic asylum” (19 October). That may have been the 19th-century terminology but as we are working hard to eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness, I would have hoped to read mental hospital or almost any term that avoids “lunatic”.

Dr Carol Henshaw

Sandbach, Cheshire


This Polish delicatessen in east London is a typical example of a business that has become part of the community This Polish delicatessen in east London is a typical example of a business that has become part of the community

European migrants are part of the fabric of British society

UKIP supporters complain about the influx of eastern Europeans (“PM threatens quotas for EU workers”, News, last week). I am a second- generation Pole, and my response is this: we fight in your wars, we pray in your churches and we share your family values. We do not attempt to change your society for the benefit of our community and yet our presence still offends many.
Mark Kozlowski

Staffing crisis

I have an elderly relative who suffers from dementia and lives in a care home. Most of her carers are migrants, who arrive here unskilled and receive dementia training, as in many care homes and hospitals.

If David Cameron is successful in limiting the numbers of unskilled workers, how does he propose to ensure adequate staff are available to help our older citizens? Policy should relate to the situation on the ground rather than pander to prejudice.
Richard Arthur
London N6

Soming home to roost

Adam Boulton is correct (“Spineless Cameron is letting Farage’s foxes into the Tory henhouse”, Comment), but it is not just Cameron’s fault. Conservatives who appreciate the hard-working values that countless immigrants have brought have stayed silent. They are also silent on the economic and security benefits of EU membership.

Before the Tory hens start laying more Ukip-flavoured eggs, those MPs elected on core Conservative principles of low taxes, safer streets, a free NHS at the point of delivery, respect for all and a reward for hard work had better start to crow.
David Boddy
Twickenham, London

Power handover

Cameron says the British people are “my boss”, but the only reason Westminster is entertaining the idea of leaving the EU is the formidable challenge presented by Ukip. If the Conservative party — or Labour — wins the next election, it will be business as usual of handing more British sovereignty to Brussels.
Roger Hayes
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Hollow victory

The defection of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless to Ukip has been presented as a triumph for the party. On the contrary, it represents the triumph of the politically correct establishment, blunting the party’s radical edge. The Ukip dream is surely dead.
Bill Marsh
By email

Rich pickings

Ukip, latter-day Thatcherites, lacks the intelligence to see that the oligarchs and foreign corporations taking slices of our property and industry have become a long-term economic problem. Irrationally, the party likes to vilify skilled, working migrants.
George Colerick
London W14

Promoting debate on wages for disabled

MANY excellent points can be drawn from Dominic Lawson’s column on Lord Freud and the fallout from his comments on the disabled and minimum wages (“Lord Freud’s slip I don’t mind, but the confected outrage disgusts me”, Comment, last week). It’s sad that politics has come to this and especially that a well-meaning public servant has been vilified in such a way.

I have an 18-year-old son with Asperger’s and I want him to derive happiness and purpose from work even if we have to top up his wages. His mother gave his employer the £5 an hour he was paid in his first Saturday trainee role, as he was not hired on a commercial basis; it was to help him develop his social skills and confidence.

I employ 180 people in a dynamic mid-size company, and all have to contribute fully. The discussion of a lower wage or top-ups is entirely relevant and it’s healthy that the subject was raised and is now in the wider public domain.

David Kelly


Employment exchange

All credit to Lawson for writing a sensitive article containing good common sense. Having worked in the employment field with school-leavers of mixed ability, I can well remember the challenge of finding work for them. One particular girl could neither read nor write but was placed in a supermarket to fill shelves, using the pictures on the labels of tins and packets. She was very pleased to be working and proved a loyal and diligent employee.

Her placement was part of a government training scheme in which she was paid £25 a week. I’m going back to the 1980s, but couldn’t this experience equate to the basic minimum wage? Give financial assistance to employers for the time it takes to train and supervise those of us who need extra help.

Liz Dahl

Pewsey, Wiltshire

Elderly treated like infants in hospital

THANKS to Nicci Gerrard for a poignant article on old age (“Once we were young”, Style, last week). My own father died almost two years ago, and he too was a highly intelligent, unfailingly courteous, reserved and dignified gentleman.

In hospital, towards the end of his life, nobody seemed interested in what he used to be. He too was addressed as “dear” or “darling” or as part of the ubiquitous “we”. He hated it. I hated it.

I know that elderly patients need a lot of time and care in an NHS system that is hugely overstretched. But at a time when their dignity is already compromised by their need for help with everyday tasks such as washing, dressing and feeding, surely we can still grant them the courtesy of a polite form of address. They should be accorded just as much respect at the close of their life as they were in its heyday.

Katharine Nell

Great Boughton, Cheshire

Omission statement

Labour has promised more “doctors and nurses”, and now you report that “Labour pledges wait of 7 days for test results” (News, last week). There is a shortage of radiologists, and while image interpretation can be outsourced, performing the tests and the interpersonal skills required to put the patients at ease at a difficult time cannot. Michael Sleight (former radiographer)

Castle Donington, Leicestershire

Bonus question

Construction contracts usually contain a penalty clause about late completion, but this is enforceable only if there is an equivalent bonus for early completion. While I disagree with doctors getting a bonus for doing their job (£55 for diagnosing dementia in England), perhaps they should get an equivalent penalty for a non-diagnosis or misdiagnosis.

Peter Jensen

Skipness, Argyll

Polls apart on assisted dying for aged

YOUR YouGov poll seemed to indicate only 48% supported the actions of 86-year-old Jean Davies in taking her own life (“Starving myself to death is hell, but the law leaves me no choice”, News, last week).

The questions asked apparently made no reference to an individual’s age, and did not inquire who would assist in someone’s suicide. In March 2013 in an ICM opinion poll 70% agreed that a mentally competent “very elderly” adult suffering unbearably from various health problems should be legally allowed to receive a doctor’s assistance to die, if it was their persistent request.

A fortnight before she died, I told Jean (whom I knew well for 20 years) about this ICM poll. It did not in any way influence her decision to continue with her fast, but she smiled and thanked me for this information.

Michael Irwin (Society for Old Age Rational Suicide) Cranleigh, Surrey

Death duty

When I was a young doctor, it was implicit that there were patients whose last days and hours were distressing beyond belief but whom we could assist to a bearable death. That is what we did, without drama or reproach.

Politicisation of death has allowed merciless endings to replace what could have been the rounding-off of a life of commitment and service.

Vivien Sleight

By email


Osborne’s pension plan

Becky Barrow in the feature “Hitting the pension jackpot” (Focus, last week) does not mention the recipient of the greatest payout — the Treasury. It will be the winner because it will be collecting income tax many years earlier on amounts taken by pensioners that would otherwise have been taxed gradually over the life of their annuities. Perhaps this is all a cunning plan by the chancellor, George Osborne, to bring down the deficit without anyone noticing how.

Jan Manning

West Chiltington, West Sussex

Vintage wardrobe

As I dressed in my Thames-mud-coloured baggy linen overshirt (with hole-showing vest underneath), teamed with trousers in a shade of pale cream cracker, I rejoiced in my sartorial independence (“Colour is life”, India Knight, Style, last week). The point about ageing is that you can dress as you like. No one is looking at you.

Abigail Watson


Wrongful prosecution

It seems that police have insufficient resources to prosecute those who are driving an international epidemic of child sexual abuse today, yet they have plenty of manpower to prosecute ageing entertainers to the ends of the earth over historic cases. Something is not right.

Name and address withheld

Coup de gras

The anti-foie-gras vigilantes in Primrose Hill (aka the London Vegan Actions group) have vowed to carry on protesting until they stop a north London butcher selling the delicacy (“Battle of Primrose Hill over butcher’s foie gras”, News, last week). They are entitled to object but they do not have a divine right to stop him selling it and they certainly don’t have the right to tell us what we should and should not eat.

Bill Hollowell,


Cheap shot

Jamie Blandford, the 12th Duke of Marlborough, is fair game for a bit of sport with his record of drug convictions, even though addiction is actually an illness and more to be pitied than damned (“Bloody good show, what — giving this halfwit a duke’s pad”, Rod Liddle, Comment, last week). But for Liddle to refer to the much-loved Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, saviour of a national treasure such as Chatsworth House, as “some woman called ‘Debo’ Cavendish”, mocking her reference to a tea date with Adolf Hitler, is childish.

Deborah Condon

Shaftesbury, Dorset

He’s my man

Please ask Katie Glass to take me with her if she gets to meet Leonard Cohen (“Next on my bucket list: meeting my heroes — preferably in the pub”, Magazine, last week). I’ve kept the faith since my boyfriend (and husband now of 44 years) put the Songs of Leonard Cohen album on my record player in 1968, so I qualify. I won’t be any trouble — she can do the talking.

Lynne Birch

Totnes, Devon

Penalty decision

There is a lot of discussion on whether or not Sheffield United should re-engage Ched Evans, given the sexual offence he was convicted of (“Sexes split on return of rapist footballer”, News, last week). Surely this is not a decision for the club to be making but one that the Football Association should be responsible for — a decision that should have been made when he was convicted, not on his release from prison.

David Hay

Washington, Tyne and Wear

Corrections and clarifications

A story on the use of a personal services company (“Top council earner avoids income tax”, News, August 24) reported that a person paid by dividends “faces only flat-rate corporation tax”.This was incorrect: such income would also be subject to dividend tax, depending on when the dividends were paid out in the life of the company.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, should be addressed to or Complaints, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. In addition, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) will examine formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines. Please go to our complaints section for full details of how to lodge a complaint.


Nicola Adams, boxer, 32; Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary, 47; Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state, 67; Pat Conroy, novelist, 69; Audley Harrison, boxer, 43; Austin Healey, rugby player, 41; Seth MacFarlane, animator, 41; Sir Andrew Motion, former poet laureate, 62; Julian Schnabel, film director, 63; Rita Wilson, actress, 58


899 Alfred the Great dies; 1764 William Hogarth, painter, dies; 1863 the FA is founded; 1881 Gunfight at the OK Corral, Tombstone, Arizona; 1994 Israel and Jordan sign peace treaty ending 46 years of war; 2002 death of 130 hostages and the 40 Chechen separatists holding them when Russian forces storm the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow


Much of the available fresh produce in supermarkets is sold in bulk Photo: ALAMY

6:56AM BST 25 Oct 2014


SIR – It is a welcome admission from the Waitrose supermarket chief that supermarkets are 20 years out of date in their conceptions of weekly shops by their customers.

Perhaps now we will see the end of vegetables and fruits in ready-packed weights, designed to boost sales but targeted at families. Singles of all ages do not want so much produce bought in that way because they waste much of it. Can we please see a return to vegetables and fruits being sold loosely, so that customers can choose exactly what they want?

If the supermarkets want to help large families, they can give a discount for weights sold over a certain limit, thus allowing all customers the choice.

Joyce Chadwick
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

SIR – When Tesco and the other major supermarkets came into our lives some 50-plus years ago, they were able to employ buyers and managers with expertise from the many wholesale fruit, meat and fish markets of those days, as well as grocers who knew their business and how to control it.

The overwhelming growth of the supermarket has been responsible for the demise of most of these businesses, and the talent pools that they had previously plundered have subsequently dried up.

The majority of their skilled staff have now retired and supermarkets are being run by a generation relying on computer-fed information, with no hands-on experience of the commodities under their control.

George Wilkie
Hemingford Grey, Huntingdonshire

SIR – While I admire Samantha Shelford’s tenacity in searching out the best shopping deals (“The supermarket supershopper”) I would not want to be behind her in the checkout queue.

I dread the moment when the shopper in front of me opens their purse or wallet and, in place of a card, produce a copious collection of discount coupons.

Roger Gentry
Sutton at Hone, Kent

Ghoulish grin: swede lanterns, popular in decades gone by, have now ceded to the pumpkin  Photo: alamy

6:58AM BST 25 Oct 2014


SIR – As a child growing up in the Forties and Fifties, we always scooped out turnips to make our Hallowe’en lanterns; when I moved south, it was swede lanterns for my own children.

In either case, it was jolly hard work scooping them out, but at least the contents were an immediate asset as a cooked vegetable for the dinner table. I am interested to know when it was that pumpkin lanterns became the fashion – presumably arriving here from America. I understand they are now grown by the million in British fields.

Isobel Whatrup
Gillingham, Kent

Experiments with drugs at the end of a patient’s life could cause unnecessary suffering Photo: ALAMY

7:00AM BST 25 Oct 2014


SIR – As a doctor who has worked in palliative care, I would advise caution with regard to the Medical Innovation Bill.

I have seen countless patients mis-sold chemotherapy in the last weeks of their lives, leading to avoidable consultations, hospital stays and toxic side effects. Expanding oncologists’ drug catalogue to treatments without an evidence base will make these “last ditch” attempts all the more appealing.

Perhaps the Bill should stipulate that a palliative care specialist should be the second doctor to sign off the intervention?

Dr Aaron Hughes
London NW3

SIR – We, along with many other medical organisations, have repeatedly voiced our concerns about this Bill, and believe it should not be passed into law.

Doctors are already able to try innovative treatments, as long as they do so within a governance framework designed to protect patients. The current law on medical negligence is framed to deter clinical interventions that risk harm to patients out of proportion to the potential benefits, and the BMA is not aware of any evidence which shows innovative and potentially successful treatments not being trialled because of the threat of litigation.

During consultation the Bill has been improved to put back some of the patient safety protections missing from early drafts. It’s less unsafe than it was, but will do nothing to bypass the court review whose removal was the original reason for the Bill.

What patients need is better support for scientifically based medical research, but what they will get is a Bill that undermines the established principles of patient safety.

Dr Mark Porter
British Medical Association
London WC1

Easy listening

SIR – Your correspondent who takes me to task for back-announcing the slow movement of Beethoven’s sonata Pathétique on Classic FM with the words “But you probably know it better as More than Love by Ken Dodd” (Letters, October 24) is clearly suffering from an inability to differentiate between philistinism and a sense of humour.

Mercifully, Classic FM has never fallen into the trap of believing that those who know and love classical music are unaware of popular culture. I myself subscribe to Dame Margot Fonteyn’s dictum that “To take one’s job seriously is imperative; to take oneself seriously is disastrous.”

Alan Titchmarsh
Holybourne, Hampshire

Cheap flights

SIR – Your report Fly to the US for less than £100 (first stop Iceland)” reminded me of my first trip to the United States on Icelandic Airlines, 50 years ago.

At that time it was the cheapest way to cross the Atlantic. The stipulation was that one had to stop overnight in Reykjavik. Although the first stage of the flight from Glasgow was by jet, the Reykjavik to New York leg was by a propeller-driven aircraft that vibrated a lot.

Benjamin Smith
Frinton on Sea, Essex

Family dilemma

SIR – One of your headlines yesterday was Let parents take children out of school for holidays”.

Who will clean their teeth?

Peter Wickison

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Sunday 26 October 2014

Madam – Thank you for the great coverage on the terrible sexual violence against Mairia Cahill. Every page told it how it is. I hope this will not be forgotten about. We are great in this country for quickly forgetting and sweeping things as grave as this under the carpet. Shame on those who allow the victims of Sinn/Fein/IRA violence to be forgotten. It was disturbing to watch RTE’s Primetime on Thursday evening. For 10 minutes while the Mairia Cahill abuse was discussed, Sinn Fein/IRA were shamelessly absent . What a pity that RTE devoted so little time to this extremely shocking time in Mairia Cahill’s life .

Published 26/10/2014 | 02:30

Madam – Thank you for the great coverage on the terrible sexual violence against Mairia Cahill. Every page told it how it is. I hope this will not be forgotten about. We are great in this country for quickly forgetting and sweeping things as grave as this under the carpet. Shame on those who allow the victims of Sinn/Fein/IRA violence to be forgotten. It was disturbing to watch RTE’s Primetime on Thursday evening. For 10 minutes while the Mairia Cahill abuse was discussed, Sinn Fein/IRA were shamelessly absent . What a pity that RTE devoted so little time to this extremely shocking time in Mairia Cahill’s life .

Sinn Fein are trying to rewrite history.

Una Heaton,


Sunday Independent

Madam – The case of Mairia Cahill points to a very challenging issue and raises further questions about Sinn Fein that demand answers.

Gerry Adams seems to have a uniquely clear appreciation of what did and did not go on in the IRA, describing as he does “their acting as a police force, IRA members were singularly ill-equipped to deal with such matters. The IRA on occasions shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them. While this may have been expedient at the time, it was not appropriate.”

Sinn Féin are masters at the art of language abuse. Shooting has become “not appropriate” but is not condemned perhaps because it was either authorised or condoned from the top. As a loud and oft proclaimed “non-member” of the IRA how does Mr. Adams have such detailed knowledge of their activities? Has he reported these matters to the police as he now exhorts others to do? Will he do so now even at this late stage?

While the current revelations by Ms. Cahill are disgusting, and degrading, not to mention so distressing for her parents and family, all normal people will be full of regard and respect for her courage and will want to see her situation properly and rightly investigated. But bad as the perpetration of sexual violence is, and it is horrible, what about all the other violence visited on children such as beatings, knee-cappings. If Mr. Adams knew such details about IRA policing of sexual violence, is it not reasonable to presume that he knows lots more about other forms of violence. It is reported too that Mary Lou McDonald, claims Sinn Féin has no information on child abuse. This seems an extraordinary claim.

A political party, seeking a mandate from the electorate, aligned very closely to a proscribed organisation, needs very careful examination by voters so that we know exactly what we are voing for. Every political party standing for election should make an explicit statement on their attitude to coalition with Sinn Féin, and all elected members of the Dáil Éireann should take an oath of allegiance to this State. Decency is a term much used by Mary Lou McDonald. Will she join with all right- thinking people in admiring the decency, the integrity and the courage of the McConville children, the McCartney Sisters, Mairia Cahill and indeed Eilis O’Hanlon of the Sunday Independent for highlighting in a manner that we can no longer ignore, the darker side of our past and its ability to undermine our very democracy.

Shay O’Donoghue, Stillorgan, Co Dublin


Mairia’s story was too long hidden

Madam – When any group takes unto itself, without reference to objective moral norms or without legal authority, the role of being arbiter of right and wrong for its community there is the ultimate inevitably of mayhem, brutality and murder.

That sad reality is gradually becoming ever more clear in relation to the activities over thirty years of the Provisional IRA and their parallel [at the very least] fellow-travellers Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland of ‘The Troubles’ era.

The Provisionals established their ghettos and took upon themselves the right to determine how each person should behave and to whom they should be answerable. Failure to comply led to beatings, knee- cappings, tarring and feathering and ultimately to brutal murders. Much of this was given the gloss of being in defence of a beleaguered people or clothed with words that gave a veneer of respectability. Thus for all too long we have heard of ‘The Disappeared’, as if they walked voluntarily into the setting sun. The cruel truth is that they were kidnapped, brutalised, shot and callously buried in lonely bogs far from home and loved ones.

Mairia Cahill’s terrible story of being raped and arrogantly interrogated is another manifestation of the reality that has for too long remained hidden.

It is high time that we all treated with great caution those who make great play of their new- found love for freedom and democracy

Fascists- types rarely change their spots. They simply relocate.

Councillor Michael Gleeson, Killarney, Co Kerry


Knee-cappings and beatings are abuse

Madam – Sinn Fein Vice President, Ms. Mary Lou McDonald, is reported as claiming that the party has no information on child abuse. Does she really believe that punishment beatings and kneecappings of children is not real child abuse and does she really believe that Sinn Fein had no involvement in this? Incredible.

Pat O’Mahony, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin


God help us if SF get into power

Madam – Regarding the articles on Mairia Cahill’s ordeal at the hands of Sinn Fein/IRA, the Sunday Independent has done a great public service. Ms Cahill is indeed a very courageous and brave lady, to expose Sinn Fein/IRA for what they are. If this is how they treat one of their own, God help the rest of us if. God forbid, they ever get into Government. As Michelle Mulherin TD states in your ‘paper, the republican movement have acted for years as a law onto themselves with terrible consequences for many who have been maimed or lost their lives.

Noel Peers, Torremolinos, Spain


Mairia’s bravery will help others

Madam – The Mairia Cahill expose as drawn attention to the dark and sinister elements of Sinn Fein that people down here seem to be unaware of. Mary Lou McDonald would be naive, indeed foolish, if she imagined for one minute that the hard men of the IRA in Northern Ireland would allow her to be privy to the business and secrets of their organisation. So when she states, as she has done, that Sinn Fein does not cover up cases of sexual abuse against young women by Sinn Fein/IRA activists she is speaking from a position of ignorance. In the nationalist areas of Belfast and Derry the IRA still rules and they police the local communities with a firm hand. The people know the rules and the consequences of breaking them. They keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Nobody says a word out of line – except, of course Mairia Cahill. Hopefully the bravery of this young woman will encourage others who have been abused to come forward and expose the evil godfathers of power in nationalist Northern Ireland.

Would you want to live in an Ireland governed by a party with such strong links with a group of insidious men in the North of Ireland. Remember one thing about the IRA. As Gerry Adams once famously said, “They haven’t gone away you know.”

Raymond Kernan, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan


Were McConville’s killers “decent?”

Madam – I think I heard Gerry Adams correctly when he said in the Dail (Wednesday, 22 October) that the three republicans who sat in judgement of Mairia Cahill were “decent people.” This begs the question: were the republicans who sat in judgement of widowed mother of ten, Jean McConville, decent people? And were those republicans who sat in judgement of the disappeared also decent people? Does Mr Adams understand the meaning of the word ‘decent’?

Niall Ginty, Killester, Dublin 5


SF must first tell truth about Mairia

Madam – Alice: ‘I mean what I say and I say what I mean. It’s the same thing.’

Mad Hatter: ‘It’s not the same. You might as well say, ‘I eat what I see’ is the same as ‘I see what I eat.’

Such convoluted arguments are the stock in trade of Gerry Adams, for whom we must make allowances.

By his own account, some closest to him were informers, e.g.Denis Donaldson, Sinn Fein’s head of administration, Freddie Scappiaticci, head of internal security.

Paid informers also planted bugs in his offices and cars. So Gerry’s words and meanings had to be deniable – hence repeated denials of links to the IRA.

Moreover, Gerry Adams was born into the narrow Sinn Fein tradition, which subordinates truth to outdated republican beliefs.

Now it seems Sinn Fein’s new cunning plan is to campaign for a border poll, where an enforced united Ireland is achievable – provided demographics in the North produce a 51 per cent vote for political merger with the South. Would the minority 49 per cent then meekly submit to the will of the 51 percenters?


A peaceful consensus is achievable only by first developing a society where wrongs are righted, people reconciled and differences respected. Therefore Sinn Fein must first engage in truthful encounters with those such as Mairia Cahill, before credibly proposing a return of the wide-ranging Haass talks.

Brian Rooney, Downpatrick, Co Down


Mary Lou should believe Mairia

Madam – As Mary Lou “doesn’t believe” the allegations being made against the ‘bearded one’ it would be interesting to know how she came to that conclusion, not having any first hand knowledge of events that happened at that time. Which makes the statement patently ludicrous and obviously just aping the party line.

Liam Heron, Swords, Co Dublin


Most people see through Sinn Fein

Madam – I hold nothing but great admiration for Maíria Cahill, who, since going public with her story has shown immense courage in the face of a concerted effort by Sinn Féin to discredit her. Most right-thinking people see through Sinn Féin’s prevarication and its penchant for euphemisms when offering explanations or evading questions about some indefensible act or other. One thing is certain; Maíria’s story is not going to go away as some might wish.

(Name and address with Editor)


Disgusted at Sinn Fein response

Madam – I have just been reading your distressing articles (Sunday Independent, 19 October) about Mairia Cahill and I am disgusted and slightly frightened by the response from Sinn Fein.

When I think,that there are still people in our country, voting for this party, with all that we know about them, and their links to the IRA it makes me wonder.

Do these voters know about Robert McCartney in Belfast, or Mrs. Quinn in Cullyhanna, who was handed the body of her son Paul, with every bone in his body broken. Don’t forget what Gerry Adams told us: “They have not gone away you know”.

Be afraid, be very afraid!

(Name and address with Editor)


Lucinda’s tip was appreciated

Madam – You recently published an article by Lucinda O’Sullivan encouraging your readers to enjoy the delights of Brittany. This provoked my wife and I to go there and book with four of your suggested hotels. Without exception they were exactly as described. It’s most frustrating trying to identify good French hotels in advance, due to their ridiculous star system, so we were delighted with all your suggestions. Unfortunately only one of the restaurants was  open when we called –  Auberge Du Terroir –  which was excellent. The owner kindly offered to book us a table at a nearby competitor,  Le Guy Du Holme. This proved to be probably the best meal ever in France if not our best meal ever, period.  The trip was a great decision and raised both of our spirits at a time when it was needed.

Thank you for giving us the impetus to go, and for your sterling advice. I would give you ten out of ten for entirely accurate information.With best wishes and keep up the good work.

John and Jackie Phelan, Tralee, Co Kerry

Emer’s lunchtime review criticised

Madam – For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of attending Bewleys Lunchtime Theatre on Grafton Street. Last Monday, I brought along a visitor from Denver and for a cost of €12 per person, we had a wonderful one man show – ” Patrick Kavanagh ; A Life ” by PJ Brady , plus an excellent bowl of soup and home made brown bread. At the end of the show, a lady sitting beside me spoke in very irate terms about Emer O’Kelly’s review in the Sunday Independent, which I later read and found it to be grossly unfair. The show info describes Kavanagh as ” dishevelled poet, whiskey drinker and curmudgeon.” In her review Ms O’Kelly states “Curmudgeon is a polite term for a loutish ignoramus ” The many definitions of that word I’ve read all seem to say it represents an ill-tempered person, stubborn and bad mannered. She states that Brady is also ” physically utterly unlike Kavanagh,” which is both petty and inaccurate. . This is lunchtime theatre, Emer, not The Royal Shakespeare Company. Get a Life.

Tom Savage, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin


Party politics has failed the people

Madam – Eddie Molloy’s article on ‘Moral Compasses’ (Sunday Independent, 12 October) hits the spot. Like many of our educated young people, democracy has also left our shores.

Successive Irish governments have proven the party political system has failed the Irish people and demoralised the nation.

Joe Brennan, Co Cork


Church in Dublin is far from dead

Madam – Your editorial of last Sunday (Time for politics to find new way) refers to the tragedy and shame of child abuse in the ‘once all-powerful Catholic church’ , deeming that ‘all that is left of the Church in Ireland is (sic) the current skeletal remnants’.

In my opinion the pastoral life and fidelity in Dublin parishes at least, with whom I am familiar, certainly does not answer that description.

Despite the damage incurred, local Christian communities are certainly not ‘dead’ (as in skeleton)

Tom Stack, Milltown, Dublin 6

Will owes Sean an apology

Madam – The cover headline for Will Hanafin’s interview with Donald Trump (Sunday Independent Life magazine, 19 October). was scandalous, hurtful and offensive to Sean O’Rourke. How would Will Hanafin’s family or Will Hanafin himself feel if the RTE Guide had a front cover emblazoned with the headline “Will Hanafin is a dick head?” He would not like it one little bit.

Will owes Sean an apology.

William Carroll, Mountmellick, Co Laois

Sunday Independent



October 25, 2014

25 October 2014 Sweeping

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the pgarage roof some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down trout for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Simon Featherstone – obituary

Simon Featherstone was a diplomat whose fascination with China proved useful when he was made High Commissioner to Malaysia

Simon Featherstone

Simon Featherstone

5:51PM BST 23 Oct 2014


Simon Featherstone, who has died aged 56, was one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s leading China experts, and witnessed the rise of China from the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution to her ascendancy as a world power. Whereas, before the end of the Cold War, experience of Europe and the Soviet Union was seen as the route to the top in the FCO, Featherstone’s career marked a change of emphasis towards the Asia/Pacific region.

Simon Mark Featherstone was born on July 24 1958, the son of David Featherstone, a theologian, and his wife Nora, a French teacher, and educated at Whitgift School, Croydon, and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read Law. He joined the FCO in 1980, and after studying Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies and in Hong Kong he was posted to Peking. It was still a city of bicycles, Mao suits and conformity.

The British were regarded as an imperial power, and the negotiations over the future of Hong Kong had just begun. Peking — now known as Beijing — was regarded as a “hardship” post, but Featherstone saw it as a challenge and never lost his fascination with China. Returning to London in 1987, he went on loan to the Cabinet Office and was there in 1989 when the massacre of student protesters in Tiananmen Square took place. He was able to use his experience of China to good effect in advising on sanctions against the regime.

He then moved to Brussels in 1990 to cover environmental issues in the UK Representation to the European Union. The importance of the environment was by then firmly on the international agenda, and Featherstone, with his legal background, became a master in Britain’s interest in coping with the thicket of EU regulation — he was acknowledged by friend and adversary alike as “the computer”.

But China again beckoned, and at the young age of 36 he was appointed consul general in Shanghai, where Britain was in stiff but successful competition with foreign rivals to equip the new Shanghai Airport. Featherstone moved to be political counsellor in Peking in 1996 as the negotiations for the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 were being completed and played a key role in understanding the Chinese government’s intentions.

He returned to London in 1998 to head the European Department in the FCO, which was charged with the difficult issue of the accession of the former communist countries of Central Europe and the Baltic States — in particular, whether their citizens should have the right of residence and employment in Britain. This was a matter for political decision, but Featherstone believed that the post-war division of Europe should be ended and that enlargement of the EU was in the interests of Britain’s security and prosperity.

Featherstone was appointed ambassador to Switzerland in 2004 and was much involved in negotiations to force Swiss banks to reveal details of secret bank accounts held by foreign nationals that were being used for tax evasion and money laundering. However, he was called again to work with China on appointment as the British director of the Shanghai Expo 2010. The British Pavilion, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, won the gold medal for pavilion design, but it required an immense and skilful campaign by Featherstone to fill it with the best of British culture and industry. He was appointed CMG for his work. After the Expo he was appointed High Commissioner to Malaysia.

For Featherstone, through his long association with China, this could have been a difficult assignment given Malaysia’s rivalry with China in the Asia/Pacific region. There were still vestiges of Britain as a colonial power that had at one time led to the “Buy British Last” campaign and the banning of Concorde overflights. But he found that the Malaysians welcomed his knowledge of China, and he quickly got on terms with Najib Razak, the prime minister, who described Britain moving from “benign neglect to constructive engagement” during Featherstone’s time. There was a rise in trade and investment, including the purchase of Battersea power station by a Malaysian consortium. The loss of the Malaysian airliner MH 370 over the sea in March 2014 led to close cooperation in the search operation.

He was a keen supporter of British education in Malaysia, notably with Nottingham University, which honoured him with a Doctorate of Laws.

Having grown up in south London, he was a Crystal Palace supporter but, ever the diplomat, he presented himself in Malaysia as a Manchester United fan, since this is the team supported by half the Malaysian population.

Featherstone was diagnosed with cancer in September 2013 but served on with great courage in Malaysia until May 2014. Once, when still a junior official in the FCO, he was amused to be quoted in The Guardian as “a senior Foreign Office mandarin”. But that never became his manner. He had an approachable style that won friends wherever he served. While he played his official role with dedication, he never took himself too seriously. As a committed Christian, he saw public service as part of his calling, treating everyone with respect, seeking to show integrity in all his dealings.

He married, in 1981, Gail Salisbury, whom he met when they were both at Oxford. She survives him with a son and two daughters.

Simon Featherstone, born July 24 1958, died August 26 2014


AH Halsey at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 1992. AH Halsey at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 1992. Photograph: Kenneth Saunders for the Guardian

The Oxford department that AH Halsey headed at Barnett House for 28 years trained graduate social work and probation students. His role as an activist ran through what it did: his view of sociology was always a broad one, encompassing social and community work at the applied end.

After his appointment as research adviser to Tony Crosland in 1965, he and Michael Young campaigned hard to get a government response to the Plowden report on primary education, and to launch pilot action-research projects in educational priority areas. The result was a national programme run directly by the Oxford department, with Margaret Thatcher, a later education secretary, keen to meet “Dr Halsey” to learn the results for her 1972 white paper. He took a similar role in launching the Home Office community development projects in the wake of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.

In the late 1960s Halsey encouraged the OECD in Paris to focus more on educational policy rather than manpower training, personally securing substantial funding from the Ford Foundation and Japanese government for a new OECD centre, which he chaired for many years. He travelled Britain speaking to groups as part of his commitment to adult and community education. Nearer to home he established a local community project on the Barton estate in Oxford, which ran for many years under Barnett House auspices. His ability to engage many different audiences without using any notes or aids made him a very formidable and effective operator – within academia, the civil service, international organisations and local groups.

John Gray’s essay is disappointing (The evil within, 21 October). To sustain his critique of secular liberalism, he needs to distinguish between the so-called liberalism of western governments and the so-called liberalism of those who are critical of their own governments, especially when those governments propose intervention or restricting “human rights”, invoking “security”. He does not do so. In fact, he homogenises divergent strands of western liberalism.

Gray affects to believe that because Tony Blair said Saddam Hussein was “uniquely” evil, all other western leaders thought the same, when even George W Bush spoke of an “axis of evil” comprising three states. His assertion that “our leaders”, today, believe Isis to be “uniquely evil” seems baseless. They believe that Isis is more evil than Bashar al-Assad and more of a direct threat to us – justifiably. They also tell us it will be a long struggle – correctly.

Gray’s other error is to invoke situations where intervention has not “worked” without mentioning situations where non-intervention has been equally unsuccessful. Thus, Libya “is now an anarchic hell-hole”, but tenfold worse Syria is not mentioned.

Western leaders as believers in “melioristic liberalism” is quite a stretch. In fact, it is their vocal opponents on the liberal left who believe that people can just go on getting better without what the market calls “corrections” now and again. They will not like Gray’s wise conclusion that “non-intervention is a morally compromised option” and that “military action may be justified”.
Hugh Hetherington
Sandwich, Kent

• The conclusion to John Gray’s lament exposes the contradiction within it: he accepts that there is no peace without “functioning states”; but functioning states are examples of the same “social institutions” he has dismissed a thousand words earlier. Social institutions are established to mitigate a variety of evils (rather than a single monolithic “evil”). Some grandiose creators of social institutions may believe that evil can be finally overcome through their efforts. But many members, supporters, or advocates of social institutions are not so deluded. They understand that institutions are fallible, will break down, and may themselves become agencies of harm. There will be improvements, but also deteriorations. So institutions have to be dismantled and rebuilt, generation after generation, and all final solutions are bogus. It’s possible to believe that social institutions are all we’ve got without believing they provide the royal road to the perfection of anything.
Jon Griffith
School of Social Sciences, University of East London

• “No advance in human knowledge can stop humans attacking and persecuting others.” Surely a claim too far, unless John Gray regards his own article as a futile contribution to a pointless debate? Meliorism is not idealism: in education, and social science in particular, meliorism assumes that while violence and destructiveness may be inherent and inescapable features of humanity, improvements in interpersonal and inter-group relations are possible.
This assumption does not conflict with the broad sweep of Gray’s analysis and he has no need to assert that it does.
Neil S Batchelor

• John Gray’s article is fascinating, and in many respects convincing. However, I strongly reject his view that the tendency to violence and evil is a fundamental aspect of our nature. While it would clearly be ridiculous to claim humans are never violent, the psychotherapist Carl Rogers argues that his experience shows that “the innermost core of man’s nature, the deepest layers of his personality, the base of his ‘animal nature’ is positive in nature – is basically socialised, forward-looking, rational and realistic”.

The generally accepted view, however, as Rogers points out, is that man’s basic nature is destructive and has to be kept under control. One reason this view is so widespread is that therapy reveals (and we often feel) destructiveness, violence and anger, and it is easy to mistake these feelings as fundamental. But Rogers found that these “untamed and unsocial feelings are neither the deepest nor the strongest, and that the inner core of man’s personality is the organism itself, which is essentially both self-preserving and social”.

Gray calls on evolutionary psychology to support his case, but I would ask: why would a species evolve that was fundamentally self-destructive? The instinctive desire for preservation of self and others seems to me to be a much more likely product of human evolution.
Ian Pirie
Upminster, Essex

• It’s perhaps apt that John Gray’s article should coincide with your editor-in-chief’s invitation to readers to engage more fully with the Guardian. I was struck by the quoted abstract from CP Scott’s famous 1921 essay that one of the most important aspects of a newspaper is it that should “play on the minds and consciences of men”. May the Guardian long continue to do so.
Brendan Kelleher
Douglas, Cork, Ireland

• Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth in their novel Wolfbane explain that human cultural development is controlled by the ratio C:P, where C is the number of calories and P is population. The practice of liberal ideals will only be possible where C:P is high; it will be degraded, and eventually disappear, where C:P declines.
Jeremy Cushing

• John Gray provides an insightful commentary on the global political and socio-cultural chaos we are bequeathing to our children. His essay reveals the inadequacies of the “western” political and military responses thus far, yet does not offer any way out of the morass. He ascribes many historical and current atrocities to a refusal to offer “moral standing” on the part of the perpetrators towards their victims.

I recall, when teaching politics at Oxford University in the late 1990s, that many of my students were enamoured of the Charter 88 movement of an earlier political generation. A written or codified constitution, for them, provided an answer to many of the issues and inequalities besetting the UK at the time. I confess that I did not wish to stifle their youthful idealism, yet felt duty bound to spend time running through the inadequacies of nation-states that did possess codified constitutions.

For example, the US constitution and bill of rights did not prevent the Removal of Indians Act, the internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war or the abuses of Senator Joe McCarthy. Clearly, to be denied “personhood” in the eyes of others or institutions entails a threatening vulnerability, written constitution or not. Liberation theology, a useful credo that emanated from Latin America, offered another insight to which Gray alludes, that institutional structures have their own dynamic that can bring about awful, or “sinful”, results.

His fundamental thesis, however, concerns the seeming intractability of human nature and the failings of the “melioristic” liberal construct to handle this. He recognises that this observation is nothing new, but perhaps fails to acknowledge the insights provided by the great Lithuanian, Levinas, whose whole philosophy, it is said, can be summed up with the words: “After you, sir.”

The great world religions, too, offer a critique of human nature and in many ways emphasise the importance of empathy, the abrogation of self, wisdom and a perspective beyond the now at both a collective and individual level. It is perhaps this shared element of human understanding, if not nature, that we must all now look to as a means of giving the next generation something with which they can work to counter the nihilistic theism that characterises the present epoch.
Dr Jonathan Snicker
St John’s College, Oxford

• Barack Obama, David Cameron, Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Bashar al-Assad, Abu Bakr Naji, Vladimir Putin, George W Bush, Jo Biden, the Taliban, Gaddafi, God, Mani, Jesus, St Paul, Satan, St Augustine, Pelagius, David Cesarani, Adolf Eichmann, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Avishai Margalit … are either against, or exponents of, or responsible for, or quoted on, or victims of, or have ideas about evil, in John Gray’s explanation of human conflict as a basic human trait. One woman, Hannah Arendt, had a say.

It’s no wonder women don’t write letters to the Guardian. Surely they deserve better representation in an essay on such an important matter, that affects all of us so deeply. Ok, they are not on the world’s historical cast list, but they did give birth to it, and nurtured it.
Judy Liebert

Barack Obama awards Ben Bradlee the presidential medal of freedom President Barack Obama awards Ben Bradlee the presidential medal of freedom, 2013. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Obituaries of Ben Bradlee (News, 23 October) have rightly reflected his bravery as an editor of a national newspaper, most obviously in handling the Watergate revelations. He was also a man with a dry wit who never took himself too seriously. Some time after Watergate I had a meeting with him at the Washington Post. I asked him how the worldwide fame of his ace reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had changed things. “Oh, there is no real change here. If a chicken gets run over in Georgetown, Woodward is there to tell us all about. If there is a failure in the traffic lights, Bernstein is on the job in the usual way. The only thing is … about 6 o’clock every the evening, the office Tannoy will sound with a message: “Mr Woodward or Mr Bernstein, your chauffeur is waiting for you.”
John Palmer

• In the second paragraph of his obituary (23 October), Christopher Reed refers to Ben Bradlee’s dread that, despite being the “most lauded and influential American journalist of his era”, the second paragraph of his obituary would mention the name of Janet Cooke, who brought the worst disgrace upon the Washington Post in its history (From the archive, 20 April 1981: Failures which spawned Pulitzer lie). Ironic or not?
Mike Pender

• When reading Alan Rusbridger’s appreciation of Ben Bradlee (Opinion, 23 October) as well as the other heartfelt tributes in the Guardian, I couldn’t help wondering whether, in years to come, both Rusbridger and the Guardian might receive the equivalent of the presidential medal of freedom (Roy Greenslade, 12 August 2013) from the British government for journalistic integrity, regarding Edward Snowden’s revelations and their ongoing support for him.
Pamela Gagliani
Todi, Perugia, Italy


The attitude of the Atos Healthcare spokesman in your report about Iain Duncan Smith deciding MS and Parkinson’s disease are curable (23 October) is astonishing. He states that their healthcare professionals are trained in the assessment of these chronic conditions.

Perhaps they should go back to training classes as they clearly have not understood these conditions at all. As a specialist health professional with many years of experience in Parkinson’s, I have never come across a single person with the condition who gave up working any sooner than was absolutely necessary.

The decision to terminate  paid employment is always very difficult to come to terms with and many people with Parkinson’s have carried on longer than might be advisable, with some detriment to their physical health. To suggest that Atos is in any way competent in assessing level of function and making a fair and honest appraisal is an affront to all the people to whom they have denied the benefits they should have been entitled to.

Atos could rightly claim responsibility for increasing some of the well-recognised and quality-of-life-affecting non-motor symptoms such as anxiety and depression. It’s high time this process was made fair and transparent.

Fiona Lindop

Belper, Derbyshire

After spending half an hour in my bathroom, I spent another half an hour getting together the medication that limits the pain and suppresses (most) of the violent spasms that make my legs cramp up and my hands turn into claws.

I get through the day one way or another before taking liquid morphine to dampen the pain in my neck and upper back (the MS is now attacking my spine) so I might get some sleep. I would like to thank Iain Duncan Smith for announcing the cure for MS. Can he also tell me when the pain and indignity of my condition will go away?

Brenda Lynton-Escreet

Carnforth, Lancashire


With the major political parties all welcoming the NHS report (News, 23 October), this is the opportunity for them to agree on bold new ideas on funding, that individually they would not dare to propose. It is clear that more money is needed; but expecting to find it by savings is optimistic.

Pensioners are major users of health services yet, once retired, contribute nothing. Paying a national insurance contribution – reduced so as to contribute to the NHS but not to pensions, would be fair.

I should make it clear that I am a pensioner!

Many of us who are now retired have been beneficiaries of free education, free health services, generous pensions, and so on. Perhaps it’s time for us to share more of the funding burden.

Bob Dunkley

Bushey, Hertfordshire


There has been much talk recently about the NHS saving money by concentrating upon prevention rather than cure. This cannot work and is brought about by lazy use of language. Preventative medicine is clearly a very good idea. Childhood vaccinations and cancer screening are wonderfully successful programmes that work very effectively. They do not, however, save lives. They prolong lives.

The long-term effect of the superb service that we get from the NHS is that we have an ageing population with record numbers in their 80s, 90s and even 100s. Thus it is disingenuous to pretend that preventative medicine saves money. In fact it creates ever increasing numbers of older people upon whom, quite rightly, large sums of money must be spent to meet their medical needs.

Rod Auton



Instead of giving encouragement vouchers to obese people, they – and all those who deliberately risk damaging their health by binge eating and drinking, drugs and alcohol – should be charged for all the resultant medical care and attention they receive.

That would reduce the drain on the NHS and discourage the irresponsible with idiotic lifestyles by hitting them hard in their pockets instead of adding to the burdens of others.

Robert Tuck

Wimborne Minster, Dorset

How soon before this increasingly callous government declares that the dead are actually fit for work, and tells them to stop lounging about all day in their coffins?

Pete Dorey



Botham’s interest in wildlife is to kill it

Ian Botham and his gang describe the RSPB as a “vampire squid hoovering up conservation funds”. (Report, 24 October). In fact, Botham and his gang appear to think that conservation of wildlife habitat should be for the purpose of providing victims for blood sports.

In 2008, Botham objected to a plan to release European beavers in Scotland. He told The Telegraph it would be “catastrophic for salmon fishing”. Note, “salmon fishing”, not “salmon”. In other words it’s his “sport” he values, not living, breathing, miraculous beings.

John Bryant


EU’s £1.7bn demand will spur on sceptics

Own goals do not come much more spectacular. Assuming that the EU wants to keep Britain a member, it could hardly have proceeded more wrong-headedly. By its £1.7bn cash demand to this country it really has poured petrol on the flames of an already heated discussion.

There are, of course, benefits to UK membership and the EU represents a noble aspiration to transnational cooperation. But without a bit of gumption at the top, it could soon be minus a member.

Andrew McLuskey


Why is Farage a regular columnist?

I have been a subscriber to The Independent since the beginning of this year, and look forward to reading it every day. Yet, like a previous correspondent, I am puzzled as to why Nigel Farage is, alone among party leaders, given a weekly column in your paper.

Today (Another Voice, 24 October) he uses most of his column to defend a calypso recorded by Mike Read. It may be acceptable for him to do so, but what I find repugnant is his suggestion that the “left”, in itself is a vague and ill-defined term, is more outraged by this than about sexual abuse in Rotherham. I can see no evidence for this.

I have no objection to right-wing columnists. I used to enjoy the pieces by Bruce Anderson and Dominic Lawson. But they were not party leaders; and Ukip’s policies and general stance seem so at variance with The Independent’s ideals that I find the acceptance of Farage as a regular columnist hard to understand.

John Dakin


A rush to judgement about 14 children

Gillian Smith’s letter (24 October) appears to have accidently appeared in The Independent rather than the Daily Mail. If she believes that the man with 14 children has no thought for the “cost [of his children] to his country”, then clearly she believes him to be unemployed or unable to work and claiming benefits other than child benefit. What if he isn’t claiming any other benefits?

Child benefit, let’s not forget, is a near-universal benefit, the amount of which would not incentivise anyone to have 14 children, and hardly qualifies the country as “looking after these children”.

It could well be that the man is earning more than £50,000 per annum and therefore receives no child benefit at all, and actually contributes more in taxes than he would ever receive from the state. As for over-population, perhaps his 14 children will all get high-earning jobs and their taxes will contribute to Gillian Smith’s pension, or perhaps this man is already contributing to her pension. The only certain thing is that we shouldn’t make rash judgements without knowing the facts.

Gary Clark

London EC2

There’s more to Wales than Dylan Thomas

As a resident of Swansea, it’s easy to agree with John Walsh’s comments on Dylan Thomas (Voices, 23 October). Laugharne is a fascinating township and well worth anyone’s visit but, for many reasons, must rely on the fame or infamy of the poet for much of its livelihood. So well and good.

But Wales has many more charismatic characters, some of whom don’t seem to get a look-in. WH Davies of “A dull life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare” fame had an involved and varied life worthy of study. And, it seems, for those who want excitement, TE Lawrence was born in the Principality.

But all we get is Dylan!

Sean T Jackson


Socialist historians making it easy for Mi5

The fact that MI5 spied on some of the most prominent post-1945 British intellectuals such as Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm tells us something unpleasant about how liberal our democracy actually was in the Cold War era. One hopes that in these austere times MI5 is not still at it. If they want to know what modern-day socialist historians are thinking they can check our Twitter feeds.

Dr Keith Flett


Sickness absence ruins working lives and brings great costs for the economy, so calls for employers to incentivise healthier lifestyles are welcome (News, 23 October).

Inactivity is wreaking havoc with the nation’s health and since many of us spend the bulk of our week at work – often sedentary – it makes sense for employers to take the lead.

This preventative approach – combined with fast access to health professionals such as physiotherapists for those who need it – is essential if we are to tackle the obesity crisis and reduce the ever-growing demand on the NHS. Some employers may baulk at the cost of such interventions but actually the Work Foundation found that for every £1 spent, £3 was returned through reduced absence and improved productivity.

They also yield broader savings for society by keeping people in work and reducing their need for benefits. The measures proposed yesterday by Simon Stevens – along Public Health England’s “Everybody Active, Every Day” framework – are therefore good news for individuals, employers and the economy as a whole. They must now be followed up with action.

Prof Karen Middleton

Chief Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, London


Reading about the future plans of NHS England leaves me deeply concerned. While the focus of the report on meaningfully addressing the root causes of ill health – and the need for radical upgrades and financial support for prevention and evidence-based public health interventions – is to be admired, the defence of the infrastructures of the market and privatisation are deeply problematic.

What is worrying is the broad acceptance of the ethic of privatisation, with its emphasis on personalisation, local flexibility in rules and regulatory requirements and a focus on efficiencies.

The issues of infrastructure and organisation in the NHS are about funding. Breaking down boundaries between doctors and hospitals, and between physical and mental health, may in some contexts be useful but they are not the key issues.  This plays into the idea that “the NHS is unfundable and needs to change” – where there appears to be no alternative.

There are alternatives beyond the politics of tinkering embraced by the three main parties. The key issues facing the NHS are constant, chronic underfunding compared to other developed countries, wasteful internal markets, bankrupting PFI deals, the damaging physical and mental health impacts of austerity economics, and a failure to understand the way other core economic issues impact on the funding available for the NHS.

We spend at least £5bn annually on an internal market that does not improve patient care. We have just seen an unnecessary and damaging £3bn top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The answer to the health of our nation is manifestly not efficiency savings and the use of the private sector.

Dr Carl Walker

National Health Action Party, Brighton


It is clear that the results of smoking and obesity are the same: early death or expensive, avoidable stress on the NHS. While cigarette advertising is now illegal, it is incongruous that fast-food outlets can tart up façades of their premises with mouth-watering pictures of meals designed to stimulate the cephalic stage of digestion.

Vincent Knight



I wholly concur with Jane Merrick’s disdain for NHS England’s plan to pay GPs £55 for every patient they diagnose with dementia. (23 October 2014). What is the rationale? My only inkling has come from Jane’s own trepidation. We know that the continual increase in demand for GP services is due, in part, to the care required by the growing elderly segment of the population.

What if this is a cunning plot to curb this demand? Who, over say 60, will want to visit their GP, with whatever ailment, if there is a risk that they will be declared “demented”? We (I am, I admit, over 60) all know the care awaiting us in that eventuality!

Gordon Watt



If I were a GP I should be outraged at the suggestion that I needed a financial incentive to diagnose dementia. As a patient I might fear that an unwanted diagnosis might be about to be thrust upon me. As a taxpayer I’m (almost) speechless at yet more mis-spending of my money, possibly for a political purpose.

Susan Alexander

South Gloucestershire


It’s obvious what the Woolf test should be

Surely the test for the suitability of Fiona Woolf to chair the latest inquiry is very obvious. What would a judge do if a jury member, and foreman, disclosed the same level of acquaintance with the defendant in a trial? Unless the same policy is applied then the appointment is simply a case of an elite declining to abide by the same rules as it sets for everyone else.

I do not know the policy for juries but do know that if a member of a planning committee had the same degree of acquaintance with an applicant as in the parties in the Woolf case then, under rules laid down by the Government, they could face censure if they did not declare it and remove themselves from the discussion. The appearance of impartiality is important.

 It is also debatable, especially in an era where official files can go missing, whether office staff for the inquiry should be drawn from the department being investigated. They may worry that their colleagues might not welcome them back, and give them an honour, if they did not soften criticisms.

John Kennett


In a nation of nearly 60 million people it should not be that difficult to find at least one person who is perfectly well qualified to head an inquiry into child abuse – and who does not believe that being Lord Mayor of London is not part of the “Establishment”. Oh, and does not live in the same street as Leon Brittan, but does live on the planet!

This chain of events would be laughed at as too unbelievably nonsensical to be included in even the most satirical of anti-establishment shows. As for the “victim community mind” comment – it says it all about the establishment community mindset.

Tom Simpson



What’s so great about having 14 children?

I was shopping in a supermarket yesterday when I heard a man boasting that “he” had just had his 14th child. He obviously thought it was a magnificent achievement, with no thought for the cost to his country (us) of looking after all these children for him, nor the fact that he is contributing to the over-population of our country and our planet.

I am becoming more convinced that we should offer child benefit only for the first two children in a family (and nothing to those above a certain income) and that any more than two should be paid for entirely by the parents.

Gillian Smith

West Sussex


Looking after those on benefits

The report by major charities (23 October) into people with long-term debilitating conditions shows how much time and money is wasted trying to find people fit for work, who subsequently are found not to be fit after all, at a great financial and emotional cost. I have been working on benefits appeals for 17 years and have helped thousands overturn incorrect decisions and in most cases secure other benefit entitlements. The real shame is that many go without their correct entitlement because the Government uses the media to discourage benefits claiming, even by the most vulnerable.

Gary Martin

Benefits Adviser East London

Why Ched Evans must show true remorse

If Ched Evans believes he is innocent he has every right to appeal against his conviction, but whether his appeal is successful or not he must demonstrate true remorse if he is to resume his football career. A successful appeal would only show that he might not have acted illegally.

His responsibility is wider than merely not acting illegally. His actions, whether legal or not, have brought shame to a great football team and to the reputation of all professional football players. If he wants to be rehabilitated into the football world he must apologise wholeheartedly and give unreserved assurance that he will avoid the risk of any repetition.

In common with all who benefit from their position of being role models he shares the duty of being better than merely law abiding.

Clive Georgeson

South London


A calypso that brings back memories

Matthew Norman’s piece in today’s paper made me think of my wartime service in Trinidad. There was one calypso I would like to repeat for your enlightenment.

When the Yankees came to Trinidad They got the young girls going mad.

Young girls say they treat-em nice,

Make Trinidad like paradise.

Drinking rum and Coca-Cola Go down point Tumana

Both mother and daughter, Working for the Yankee dollaaaar!

John Scase


Sir, One aspect that is overlooked in the NHS England Five-Year Forward View (“Crisis in the NHS”, leading article, Oct 23) is the significant role that digital technology can — and must — play in providing sustainable and affordable care. Targeted use of a range of social media and other low-cost technologies (such as apps to monitor diet and exercise) can be used to change behaviours and encourage healthy lifestyles. Further investment in telecare technology can immediately support the provision of sustainable at-home care to our ageing population. In the long term, technology such as wearable patches that monitor vital statistics will enable practitioners to provide significantly better focused care. With smart use of digital technology, a better NHS is possible without blowing the budget.
Andy Vernon
PA Consulting Group, London, SW1

Sir, Another reorganisation of the NHS may help to cut costs, but it will do nothing to solve the underlying problem with the health service, which is that the country simply cannot afford it. There is not the remotest possibility that we can go on providing medical care for all patients and all conditions, free of charge; we will either have to cut demand or cut supply. Attempts to limit, let alone cut, demand have proved useless. Nor is there much likelihood that preventive measures will do much to lessen demand. So we must cut supply. Perhaps the NHS can only be free for emergency treatment, and all routine treatment paid for by insurance or through means testing.
Professor Tony Waldron
London N11

Sir, The assertion by the chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens’s of a rigid barrier between primary and secondary care is true of today’s NHS and is one of the major failings in the patient journey. In the days before market forces were introduced there was a healthy relationship between local GPs and their consultant colleagues. I could pick up the phone and be able to talk to a specialist with whom I had developed a personal relationship over several years. In the present system, both primary care and secondary care are separate entities, both fighting for their share of a diminishing pot of cash. The only way I can talk to a consultant colleague nowadays is on the golf course at the weekend, and even this route of access is now threatened by Mr Cameron’s plan for seven-day working.
Dr AW Cairns
Swan Surgery, Petersfield, Hants

Sir, The solution to NHS funding (“NHS: the £8 billion black hole,” Oct 23) is a hypothecated tax. Rename National Insurance as “NHS Tax”. NI revenue is at a level close to NHS spend. The rate is set annually and increases to reflect the country’s projected NHS expenditure for the following year, including overspend for the previous year.So that everyone feels ownership of our National Health Service, contributions start at the minimum wage threshold and are paid on every pound of income above that.
Adrian Cartwright
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs

Sir, Reading about the plans of NHS England leaves me deeply concerned. What is worrying is the acceptance of of privatisation, with its emphasis on personalisation, local flexibility in rules and regulation and a focus on efficiencies.The key issues facing the NHS are chronic underfunding, wasteful internal markets and bankrupting PFI deals. We pay at least £5 billion annually on an internal market that does not improve patient care. We have just seen an unnecessary £3 billion top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The answer to the health of our nation is manifestly not efficiency savings and use of the private sector.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party, Worthing, W Sussex

Sir, In the same way that charges were introduced for dental treatment and prescriptions, charges of £10/£20 must be introduced for every visit to a GP. This will eliminate most of the unnecessary “casual” visits which take up far too much of the GP’s time. Also, as the result of the absurd agreement which the last Labour government concluded with the BMA, GPs’ salaries are the highest in Europe and should be frozen for at least the next five years in order to make them realistic.
W Anthony Pike

Sir, “Treatment Centres” are nothing new. Twenty-odd years ago, tired of years of ineffectual treatment for my chronically ingrown toenails, I asked my GP about removing them. No problem. He phoned another local practitioner who specialised in such matters, made me an early appointment, and within a few weeks the job was done.
Laurence Payne

Sir, Simon Stevens would like consultants in GP surgeries to “consult” with patients. Just imagine the number of hours consultants would spend in a car or train or bus. This would amount to a huge waste of specialist skills, of time spent doing no useful skilled work instead of operating on patients at their tertiary base hospital. Thousands of hours would be lost to reducing waiting lists lost at the cost of increasing pollution. What we need is a more efficient referral system to the centre.
David E Ward
Consultant in cardiology and electrophysiology, London SW17

Sir, It is disappointing that your editorial repeats the falsehood that the British Medical Association opposed the formation of the NHS. It was in the 1930s that the BMA produced plans for general medical, hospital and maternity services for the nation. Many of these themes were revisited in the 1942 Beveridge Report that looked at providing a national health service. Doctors’ opposition to parts of what was proposed at the time was related to the detail of the government’s initial plans for how the system would operate, not to the principle of a publicly funded and comprehensive service that was free at the point of use for all patients.
Dr Mark Porter
Chairman, BMA Council,
London, WC1

Sir, Robert Vincent claims (letter, “Come back Kipling, Eliot and Auden, all is forgiven”, Oct 22) that the poems of Auden and Eliot can be committed to memory because they are ordered according to Waugh’s demand that they “rhyme, scan, make sense”. However, though the work of both poets not only at times lacks both rhyme and metrical pattern and also immediately accessible sense, it nevertheless invites memorisation by virtue of its movement and patterns of sound. Poetry is often initially known simply “by ear”: appealing resonances work and linger in the listener’s system.
David Day
Ackworth, W Yorks

Sir, Mr Vincent cites poets who “rhyme, scan and make sense”.

Auden began one poem:
Sir, no man’s enemy, forgiving all/

But will his negative inversion be prodigal

Eliot once opened up with:

The sapient sutlers of the Lord

Drift across the window-panes.

I hope Mr Vincent’s forgiveness extends that far.
Neil Curry
Ulverston, Cumbria

Sir, I agree with Ian Botham (“Ian Botham accuses RSPB of misleading its donors,” Oct 24). The RSPB’s site in Sussex was a haven for many birds and much wildlife and flora before they purchased it. I saw owls and foxes and loved the place. I am sad to discover that the woodland, which provided shade for the bluebells, has been destroyed and that the whole area has been fenced off with barbed wire. The notice tells me there are highland cattle on this land. The wonderful pine trees have been chopped down to leave a barren space — they say this is to encourage adders. Most of the natural habitat I loved is fenced off or overused.
Pam King

Aisby, Lincs

Sir, When the Spitfire was on the tail of a Messerschmitt 109 (letter, Oct 24), the Spitfire’s Merlin engine cut out momentarily upon commencement of a dive. The Messerschmitt engine continued to deliver full power as it had direct fuel injection. The negative “G” occasioned by a dive caused the float carburettor of the Spitfire to starve the engine for a crucial second; time for the Luftwaffe pilot to escape. This problem was solved by an engineer with Rolls-Royce, a Miss Shilling. She invented a simple device — a small metal disc with a precisely measured hole in its centre placed in the fuel line.
Rufus Fraser
East Grinstead, W Sussex

Sir, Am I the only elderly person irritated by the “gnarled-hands-clasped-on-stick” image that seems to feature in every article on the over-75s? For a change, I would happily allow my 93-year-old mitts to be photographed peeling potatoes, mixing a cake, or typing this letter.
Avril H Powell

Sir, I agree with Ian Botham (“Ian Botham accuses RSPB of misleading its donors,” Oct 24). The RSPB’s site in Sussex was a haven for many birds and much wildlife and flora before they purchased it. I saw owls and foxes and loved the place. I am sad to discover that the woodland, which provided shade for the bluebells, has been destroyed and that the whole area has been fenced off with barbed wire. The notice tells me there are highland cattle on this land. The wonderful pine trees have been chopped down to leave a barren space — they say this is to encourage adders. Most of the natural habitat I loved is fenced off or overused.
Pam King

Aisby, Lincs


A memorial to Bill Tutte has just been unveiled in Newmarket

The enigma machine, whose code was cracked by Alan Turing

The enigma machine, whose code was cracked by Alan Turing

6:56AM BST 24 Oct 2014


SIR – Amid the Hollywood hype surrounding the new film The Imitation Game, which highlights the achievements of the wartime code-breaker Alan Turing, it is worth pointing out that a memorial to Bill Tutte has just been unveiled in Newmarket, the town of his birth.

Tutte was a contemporary of Turing’s at Bletchley Park and was credited with achieving the greatest intellectual feat of the Second World War by determining the structure of the German Lorenz code machine without ever having seen one.

Lorenz was vastly more complex than Enigma – whose code Turing cracked – and strategically more important. The Soviet victory at Kursk in 1943 and the success of the D-Day landings in 1944 owed much to the intelligence gained by decoding intercepted German Lorenz messages. General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, acknowledged that Bill Tutte’s work shortened the war by two years.

For continuing Cold War security reasons, neither Bill Tutte nor Tommy Flowers, the Post Office telephone engineer who built Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, received any public recognition or award for their efforts at the time – although David Cameron has recently written to Tutte’s remaining family in Newmarket to express belatedly the nation’s gratitude to him.

Bill Tutte went on to become an eminent university mathematics professor in Canada, and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001. He died in 2002.

Richard Fletcher
Newmarket, Suffolk

Church at dusk

SIR – Alice Fowles refers to “traditional” times for Christian church services, at 10.30 or 11am, but during the 1st century the usual time was at dusk on Saturday, as Sunday was a working day in the Roman Empire.

The evening service is currently very practical and popular with young families in the Catholic Church.

Fr Colin Wilson
Frodsham, Cheshire

Many pensioners have houseguests and need spare rooms.

Liberal Democrat minister Lord Newby

Lord Newby told over-55s to downsize – though he lives in a London vicarage with at least one spare room

6:59AM BST 24 Oct 2014


SIR – Downsizing is expensive. It is not just a matter of removal expenses but of estate agent fees, energy-rating certificates, two lots of legal fees (buying and selling) and Stamp Duty. Then there are new curtains and carpets and other refurbishments to consider.

We have spent 30 years getting our house the way we like it. We have nice neighbours and Lord Newby isn’t the only one who has visitors. We will be staying here.

Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey

SIR – My wife and I have a pension income and a modest retirement pot. If we downsized to, say, a £300,000 house (modest in today’s market) we would have to hand over £9,000 of our money as Stamp Duty to the Government.

This punitive tax makes older people think twice about moving down the ladder, and prevents the younger generations from moving up.

Keith Barker
Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire

SIR – Should our grandchildren and their parents all sleep on the sofa when they come to stay at Christmas and half term? Should our friends who visit from abroad be expected to stay in hotels?

I need the extra space for my art and craft work, to store my knitting wool and my sewing machine and to study Open University courses. My husband needs room for his computer, jigsaws and models. These things help us to have an active retirement, keeping us healthy and out of the clutches of the NHS for as long as possible.

Would Lord Newby prefer that we moved into a one-bedroom bungalow and plonked ourselves in front of a television?

Christine M Dann
St Asaph, Flintshire

SIR – Lord Newby’s comments are yet another example of the “do as I say, not as I do” approach of our politicians.

Paul Handley
Southwell, Nottinghamshire

Brunch is not a “quirky American invention”

Brunch doesn’t deserve a battering: 'Cooking Pancakes’ by Pieter Aertsen, circa 1560

Brunch doesn’t deserve a battering: ‘Cooking Pancakes’ by Pieter Aertsen, circa 1560 Photo:

6:59AM BST 24 Oct 2014


SIR – William Sitwell is perhaps not entirely fair in his critique of brunch. For starters, it is not “a quirky American invention”: brunch originated in England in the late 19th century as a buffet-style meal, and didn’t cross the pond until the Thirties.

Furthermore, the grating name is also English, coined in 1895 in Hunter’s Weekly magazine, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, to describe the meal taken by “Saturday-night carousers” on a Sunday.

As a non-drinker I adore brunch – it is an excellent time to see friends without having to watch them descend into inebriated idiocy.

Dorothy Gammell

Classic one-liners

SIR – Everything I ever needed to know about Classic FM was summed up for me a few Saturdays ago, when the presenter, Alan Titchmarsh, back-announced a recording of the slow movement of Beethoven’s sonata Pathétique and added: “But you probably know it better as More Than Love by Ken Dodd.”

Richard Edis
Amersham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – My favourite memory of Classic FM is hearing an Irish DJ announce: “And now, a stirring march by Soupy”.

R Peacock
Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire

Bus-less routes

SIR – You report on “country buses with no driver”. Here in rural Lincolnshire we are obviously ahead of the game, as we have bus routes with no buses.

Nick Cudmore

Finding a cure for cancer is important, but so is investing in early detection.

Lab technicians check over digital scans for signs of ovarian cancer

Lab technicians check over digital scans for signs of ovarian cancer. The cancer has one of the worst survival rates, because it is often symptomless until it is too late.  Photo: EARNIE GRAFTON/San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre

7:00AM BST 24 Oct 2014


SIR – The Medical Innovation Bill reaches a crucial committee stage in the House of Lords today. Spearheaded by Lord Saatchi, whose wife died of ovarian cancer – a disease he quite rightly describes as “relentless, remorseless, merciless” – the Bill will make it easier for dying patients to access untested drugs and treatments.

The statistics for ovarian cancer are woeful: the number of deaths has barely changed in 30 years. So, unquestionably, something needs to change dramatically.

Innovation in treatment is important, but with gynaecological cancers it is innovative research into risk prediction, prevention and earlier detection that is going to make the most difference and save more women’s lives.

The statistics for cervical cancer are astounding by comparison: there has been a 70 per cent decrease in deaths over the same 30-year period thanks to advances in screening.

Investing in finding a cure for cancer is important, but we shouldn’t ignore investing in earlier detection.

Athena Lamnisos
CEO, The Eve Appeal
London W14

Teaching a lesson

SIR – As an ex-teacher, I feel embarrassed that the reader from Kent (Letters, October 20) should feel so outraged by how hard his wife, the deputy headteacher of a secondary school, works for so little financial reward.

He must surely be aware that his wife also enjoys very long holidays and that, as a professionally qualified person, if you don’t like the hours you work or the pay you get, then you can find another profession. I did.

Mel Oakes
Haslington, Cheshire

Admiring the view

SIR – You report that “chainsaw gangs were on standby… to keep trains running” in the face of Hurricane Gonzalo. This made me smile.

In the early Seventies, railways decided to stop cutting banks. Now they are covered in mature trees and large bushes that scrape the sides of trains and blow down in gales. In pictures of railways up to the Seventies, there’s not a tree in sight.

“See Britain by train” no longer applies; all you see is a green tunnel.

Terry Putnam
Weymouth, Dorset

Manner of speaking
SIR – I would be grateful if someone could tell me why the name of the letter H, spelled aitch in my Collins English Dictionary, is frequently pronounced haitch.

Angela Harries

Rugby, Warwickshire

Should French laziness be rewarded with British sweat?

A United Kingdom flag flying next to a European Union flag

Britain must now make a £1.7 billion payment to the EU Photo: Alamy

2:10PM BST 24 Oct 2014


SIR – We have a large deficit and an even larger national debt. Britain borrows huge sums of money, some of which goes toward servicing our existing debt and some of which will now go towards making this £1.7 billion payment to the EU. The demand seems to be nothing more than a penalty for our putative success rather than the levying of taxation as part of a budget in its generally accepted sense.

The Government must face down the EU over this issue. If the Commission wishes, it can exclude us from membership.

Michael Morris
Little Wratting, Suffolk

SIR – On a visit to Dieppe in northern France three weeks ago, we discovered that businesses, shops and many restaurants were closed on Sunday. With the exception of a few boulangeries, everything in the town went into shutdown on Monday.

When we realised that, besides breakfast, no food was available either in the bar or restaurant of our four-star hotel after Saturday evening until dinner-time on Monday, we returned home early.

Why is Britain’s success and hard work being penalised to prop up France’s ailing economy?

June Rockett
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Our children are facing retirement at a much later age than we are, whereas the French reversed their attempts to balance their pension books and strengthen their economy.

I have been pro-EU for many years, enjoying the advantages of easier travel and reciprocal health arrangements, but now I am moving towards wanting Britain to withdraw from the European Union.

Keith Goddard
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

SIR – The EU demands that Britain pay an extra £1.7 billion to support European countries such as France which have ruined their own economies. Can this be paid by the Department for International Development?

Michael Staples
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – There is a workable formula which accommodates British and EU interests.

UK defence spending can easily be deemed EU spending in the context of broader European security interests. There is wide respect in Europe accorded to our Armed Forces for their contribution to Europe’s stability.

Therefore, there is a strong case for waiving the proposed extra £1.7 billion fee and channelling that money into British defence spending.

John Barstow
Fittleworth, West Sussex

SIR – I have to ask: is Jean-Claude Juncker a secret Ukip plant?

Mark Hudson

London’s low maternal employment rates leave 100,000 mothers out of work in the capital.

Mothers with jobs tend to be healthier and happier than those who stay at home during their children’s early years, it has been found.

George Osbourne wants to see 450,000 more women in the workplace by 2016 Photo: Alamy

5:24PM BST 24 Oct 2014


SIR – We welcome news that the Chancellor wants to see 450,000 more women in the workplace by 2016 .

Our report, We can work it out, found that London’s low maternal employment rates leave 100,000 mothers out of work in the capital, and that this fuels London’s high child poverty rates. Increasing the supply of high-quality part-time jobs, affordable child care and employment support are key to tackling this.

With in-work poverty high, it is essential George Osborne ensures that women moving into work will also enable families to move out of poverty.

Alison Garnham
Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
London N1

Snow vs Davies

SIR – I was interested to read of the altercation at ITN between Channel 4’s Jon Snow and Philip Davies MP. At times the programme does display Left-wing bias. This is acceptable if expressed in a reasonable way.

However, you also report that Krishnan Guru-Murthy joined the conversation. Mr Guru-Murthy frequently adopts a hostile manner when interviewing. Often this detracts from the value of the discussion.

While he is not the only reporter guilty of such bad manners, there are others who achieve successful results without bullying.

Bob Turner
Clevedon, Somerset

Mobile to phone

SIR – You don’t have to live in far-flung corners of the country to need a landline. We live only 30 miles from central London, but can only get a mobile signal by leaning precariously out of the bedroom window.

When we had a small house fire that disabled the phone line, we had to run down to the end of the garden in order to summon the fire brigade. Don’t get me started on broadband speeds.

Heather Paget-Brown
Plaxtol, Kent

Auld acquaintance

SIR – I recently received an email from an old flame in New Zealand: “Was just watching an antiques programme, and thought of you.”

Gavin Littaur
London NW4

Irish Times:

Sir, – Taoiseach Kenny Enda and the leader of the Opposition Micheál Martin are in agreement that the Dáil did not accept excuses of leading churchmen over the handling of cases of abuse. We have moved on and as Christians have hopefully forgiven those who were guilty. Certainly we have allowed some important hierarchal figures who were involved to enter peaceful retirement without question. Sinn Féin is the fastest-growing political party in the State, much to the annoyance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, but surely it is time to stop this chorus of vilification of Gerry Adams by politicians – and the media, and extend to him the same courtesy and grace as was afforded to the churchmen, guilty or not guilty.

Surely it is the homeless, the old, the young marrieds who are struggling to rear families, and many other groups, whose problems should be addressed by TDs? The political point-scoring that has become the “hallmark” of Dáil debates is a waste of time and serves only to distract attention from the important functions of Government. – Yours, etc,


Cootehill, Co Cavan.

Sir, – Some years ago I published a research report, They Shoot Children, Don’t They? It documented so-called punishment attacks on young people and children by loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

Of those victims I interviewed then and subsequently, virtually without exception, none was prepared to make claims in public. One of these was hospitalised as far back as 1985 after a beating in a parent’s backyard. This was carried out by members of the IRA. He still will not speak openly almost three decades later, although he can name some of those involved. One is now a leading member of Sinn Féin in Belfast.

The reasons are simple. Whatever assurances Sinn Féin might give through its media presentations, the reality at street level can be very different. In loyalist and republican areas individuals are vulnerable in all kinds of way, not only personally but through a variety of avenues, including threats against family, kinfolk and friends. As one cautioned: “You never know”.

This makes Maíria Cahill’s challenge to power, albeit power of the invisible and unaccountable kind, both exceptional and all the more admirable. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus,

Institute of

Irish Studies,

Queen’s University,


Sir, – I have sympathy with much of what has been said on both sides of the debate about Ciaran O’Neill’s article on independent secondary schools in Ireland (“Paying for privilege”, Education Opinion, October 21st). I am the headmaster of Headfort School, a non-denominational, co-ed, independent prep school for children from three to 13 located near Kells in Co Meath. Headfort receives no State subvention.

I am often asked would I like the State to support Headfort in the way it supports independent secondary schools. My answer is that I am ambivalent on this question. I feel it would be unfair on the taxpayer, yet, if the school did receive State support, it could lower its fees. Headfort is building up its bursary programme whereby it is able to enrol children from families who would not be able to pay full fees; yet with most of our teachers paid by the State, we could immediately drop fees significantly. American and British independent schools, none of whose teachers are paid with state funds, are so expensive that they are way out of reach for the vast majority of families. This has created a massive gulf that does not exist in the same way in Ireland, whose independent secondary schools, while expensive, are much more affordable. – Yours, etc,



Headfort School,

Kells, Co Meath.

Sir, – It was heartening to read Ciaran O’Neill’s critical, contextual and informative article.

Patrick Cassidy (October 23rd) offers two standard arguments in opposition: that every child has the right to a State-funded education; and that some parents simply top this up with fees, and this practice saves the State money.

I am not convinced by either of these arguments. It is a curious practice to enable people to top up their rights with private funds, though admittedly this practice is prevalent in Ireland in both education and healthcare. We would not accept a situation in which people can top up their right to security – for instance, where people who pay a fee are offered something akin to “platinum protection” by the Garda or fire services, with special Garda stations and fire stations with improved resources set apart from the standard network. The concept is as offensive in education (and healthcare) as it is in security, even if we have been conditioned to regard it as normal.

As to whether it saves the State money, perhaps it does, but it also has a pernicious effect on the free second-level education sector. Rather than freeing up additional funds for State schools, the political effect is to actually diminish their resources.

Imagine if all letters written in defence of Ireland’s anomalous subsidy to fee-charging schools, and all the lobbying done in its favour (both individual and ecclesial), were instead directed at seeking additional supports for all schools. Imagine if the typical children of ambassadors, judges, partners in large firms, senior civil servants, and government ministers were as reliant on the State as other children are for funding for sports facilities, extracurricular activities, and other educationally valuable resources. I think a much better-resourced education sector would emerge, funded by the State and open to all. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – It was interesting to read the different attitudes to private education, with those opposing objecting to the State support for these schools. What no-one seems to have said is that those paying for private education are generally significant taxpayers and have through their taxes already paid for State schools. Surely we are entitled to spend our taxed income on private education, private medical care or, for that matter, whatever we wish! – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Johanna Lowry O’Reilly (October 24th) suggests that families with the right ethos are entitled to private schooling and that “most parents whose children don’t attend private schools wouldn’t want them to”. Since these private schools were generally established by the main Christian churches, how would the founder of Christianity evaluate this extremely elitist position? – Yours, etc,


Australian Catholic


Brisbane, Australia.

Sir, – Most citizens who are currently being asked to register with Irish Water have already paid handsomely in taxes during their lifetime for the current water infrastructure. I propose that in order to acknowledge this undisputed fact and to avoid the problem of asking citizens to pay twice, the State should issue one share in Irish Water to each citizen as a reward for their investment to date. Each year we would receive a dividend and when it is eventually sold, we would all get a nice lump sum.

As a shareholder of Irish Water, I would be much more likely to register and pay my water charges. – Yours, etc,


Rathgar, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Laurence Hogan (October 24th) is wrong to claim that the troika required Ireland to introduce water charges in order to help pay back the bailout loans. The reality is that the troika’s assessment of the Irish taxation structure showed it to have become dangerously overdependent on windfall tax revenues from an unsustainable property bubble.

When that bubble inevitably burst, tax revenues duly collapsed with it, creating a massive and unsustainable budget deficit. As such, the troika’s insistence on water charges and a property tax merely sought to bring Ireland into line with other developed countries, where such taxes make the tax base more sustainable, more predictable, and less reliant on transaction taxes and short-term windfalls from one overblown sector of the economy. – Yours, etc,


Lucan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly asserts that Irish Water must deal with customers in a “fantastic way” (“Kelly seeks ‘people of calibre’ for new board”, October 23rd).

He should know that it is already doing so. It has unnecessarily spent a fantastic amount of money (€50 million) on consultants. It has come up with a fantastic set of repair charges that have turned its repair personnel into said consultants. It is paying its staff fantastic salaries and even more fantastic bonuses, whether they perform or not, and is already overstaffed by a fantastic 33 per cent. It has made fantastic promises regarding timescales for meter installations which cannot be met. It will take a fantastic amount of money out of the economy next year and succeeding years with no published strategy as to how it will be spent and what fantastic advantages will accrue to its fantastic customer base for this most basic civil right. It is quite fantastic to think that it may get away with it.

It is equally fantastic that the Coalition might think it has a hope of re-election on the back of such a fantastic cock-up. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – For the second time on an RTÉ news programme, I have heard Clare Daly TD state that we pay for our water through the general tax system and that she is not in the habit of paying twice for services.

I live in a rural area and am not connected to either the mains water or sewage system. I have incurred the capital cost and ongoing running costs of installing a water pump and effluent treatment plant. I also pay my taxes on the same basis as other citizens of this State. Does this mean that I, and hundreds of thousands of others, are due a repayment of tax, as we have paid for a water service over many years which was not provided to us by the State? – Yours, etc,


Monasterevin, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Regarding the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the question of The Irish Times’s costs of its legal battle with the Mahon tribunal (Front Page, October 24th), a battle that the newspaper won, by the way, it is a sad day for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It’s all very well to shrug our shoulders, but this judgment will have a chilling effect on media freedom, particularly in those European states where freedom of the press is still something of a comparative novelty. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – I can hear the howls of anguish from the chattering classes as it dawns on them that even their sacred cow, The Irish Times, is not entitled to take upon itself , in the words of the European Court of Human Rights, a “role properly reserved to the courts”. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Donald Clarke’s article on fluoride (“Pouring cold water on anti-fluoridation arguments”, Opinion & Analysis, October 11th) misses an essential point – dental decay is not caused by a lack of fluoride. Dental decay is caused by a poor diet and a lack of dental hygiene.

Instead of the fluoridation of drinking water, we need a public education campaign on the importance of brushing teeth and avoiding sugary foods.

In addition to drinking water, the Irish population is exposed to fluoride from a variety of sources, including toothpaste, mouthwashes, dental floss, as well as from fluoride-containing foods such as sardines and tea.

Fluoride, therefore, does not need to be in the drinking water supply, which gives the population a chemical whose dose is dependent simply on how thirsty they are. It is simply wrong to address a problem with a non-chemical cause by adding more chemicals to our already polluted world. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Joe Cleary worries that the lack of a Swedish embassy in Ireland (October 18th) amounts to a lack of recognition by Sweden of our State. Mr Cleary should note that when Ireland’s need was dire, the Swedes (along with the Danes and those pesky, friendly Brits) stumped up over €1 billion in bilateral loans to us.

The absence of a full-time ambassador or staff did not seem to limit Swedish solidarity as our economy crashed.

The recent recalibration in the Swedish foreign service was designed to deliver more efficiencies in the wider context of our joint membership of the European Union. A grand pile on embassy row in Dublin seems counterintuitive to investing in 24/7, 365 diplomatic resources where they can make a true difference.

In making its diplomacy smarter and soft-power reach longer, we could learn from much from Sweden’s example. – Yours, etc,


Harold’s Cross,

Sir, – Gordon Linney never fails to challenge and inspire (“Compassion – the heart of the ministry of Jesus”, Thinking Anew, October 18th). Commenting on the views of a lecturer on ethics who was reported as saying that compassion would not solve any problems in the NHS, he so rightly notes that “healing is not just about drugs and procedures, it is about people with feelings and anxieties who need and deserve compassion and understanding”.

Compassion in my dictionary has many definitions, all bordering on understanding, humanity, concern and care. Perhaps it is worth adding the oft-quoted words of Maya Angelou, “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. – Yours, etc,




Bride Road, Dublin 8.

Sir, – As we approach October 31st, may I appeal to radio and television broadcasters, politicians and social commentators, and all those who respect the spoken word, to study the vowel arrangements in the word Halloween, particularly the first vowel? There’s nothing hollow about it. – Yours, etc,


Renmore, Galway.

Sir, – Fluoridation of water. Privilege in private schools. Could we have something on Roy Keane to make this week a hat-trick? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – With reference to the letter that appeared on October 24th, your correspondent may be interested to know that the automatic border control gates, which are currently being trialled, have been operating on a 24/7 basis since early October. – Yours, etc,


Press Officer,

Department of Justice

and Equality,

Dublin 2.

Irish Independent:

“From the solemn gloom of the temple children run out to sit in the dust, God watches them play and forgets the priest.” – Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet.

Whether one believes in God, Darwinism or any other theory in between; the one undeniable fact of life is that all of it is driven to extend itself through offspring. The driving force that is death underlies this charge. It is inevitable and yet we all – each and every one of us – are a celebration of life that has observed the same sun in many guises since time began.

With all the talk of precious resources is it not time for humanity to recognise that the Earth’s children are at the very top of the pile when it comes to placing a value on our existence?

Yet, all over the world, children suffer. Children don’t manipulate politics to cause war or famine. Children don’t dream up schemes of combining their efforts to grow wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Children only want to play – to escape the gloom.

One of the most horrific stories to emerge regarding children this year – and there were many, many examples – was the bombing of four young boys as they played football on a beach in Gaza. They were engaged in that most innocent and joyful pastime of dancing with a ball at their feet – and they were killed in cold blood.

Our Government – which is paid to promote the notion of peaceful settlement of conflict throughout the world -conveyed their usual silence, however.

But not the Seanad. The Seanad voted this week to recognise the State of Palestine. They voted to give Gaza and other areas in Palestine a voice that has been muted and ignored for years, a voice that has been placed under the harshest of treatments by its neighbour.

While the Seanad has provided many a day of groaning disbelief with some of its antics and comments, this week it stood up to the plate and proved itself worthy of its existence.

Take a bow, Senators!

Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co Galway.


Central Bank restrictions

A lot of articles have been written about the fact that Central Bank restrictions are excessive. In 1995, when I bought my house, the deposit ratio was 34pc. I thought it a bit excessive at the time, but that was pre-bubble deposit ratio.

This makes the central banks restrictions seem reasonable and wise.

The problem is that people’s expectation of house prices are too high and bank lending is too loose. This is what is forcing higher prices.

I would be more concerned about increasing my standard of living and having a higher disposable income, or money left from when one pays a mortgage.

If I could actually move to another part of the country, it would be Limerick. I don’t know whether their house prices will rise, but it is the city with the greatest potential and it has high rental returns, and high income relative to house prices.

This, of course, was highlighted by David McWilliams earlier this year. He is a beautiful writer.

Darragh Condren, Dundrum, Dublin 16

Deliver us from ‘old’ politics

I think most people here believe Mairia Cahill and her account of her horrendous treatment at the hands of the IRA.

I also think that Gerry Adams should personally – and on behalf of Sinn Fein – apologise to her for all the trauma she endured, even though neither he nor his party had any hand, act or part in the affair.

The ‘storm’ in the Dail over the issue is nothing more than a smoke screen by the Coalition and Fianna Fail to divert attention from the economic mess they have created. They just do not get it. They are as thick as a double ditch.

People are sick and tired of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. The minister who pushed through the property and water taxes has been rewarded with a top job in the EU.

The property tax and water taxes were approved by the Dail and thus belong to the category of ‘legalised robbery’. If the government had an ounce of cop on, they would resign immediately and call for fresh elections. I can safely predict that the winner would be Sinn Fein – since they are the only party saying the right things.

However, I shall not be voting for them since they – like all the other parties – are in favour of more abortion, same-sex marriage and an end to our blasphemy law. In fact, the silent majority (ie Catholics) have been disenfranchised. Christian morality has been swept aside.

Who then can we vote for? It is pointless voting for Independents as they have no power.

The country badly needs a Messiah, a new party of honest men and women that will reform our corrupt system of government.

James M Bourke, Terenure, Dublin 6


Irish Water a predictable mess

It’s not until they actually start work in your estate that you realise what an unmitigated cock-up the decision to place a water meter outside practically every house in the country was.

In years to come this is going to be one of those issues that will be discussed on Prime Time.

“Minister the recent inquiry (yes, there will be one) has found that the then-government acted with an astonishing degree of incompetence in its decision to install water meters outside every house in the country, a decision that plunged the country into political and financial turmoil resulting in political stalemate for the foreseeable future. What’s your take on it, Minister?”

The one thing we have learned in Ireland over our 100-year history is that we never learn by our mistakes. In my opinion, this government came into office with the intention of making the vast majority of the population poor.

They have just over a year to achieve their goal and they are well on course.

To paraphrase Brendan Behan: “If it was raining soup the Irish government would go out with forks.”

Mike Burke, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare


Ever feel like you’ve been ad?

We are constantly reminded by our state broadcaster that it’s our licence fee that makes quality Irish programmes and services possible.

Although the RTE player is cited as one of these services, it would seem that our downpayment is forgotten when we are forced to spend 60 seconds of our time watching advertisements that can’t be skipped.

Peadar Grant, Dundalk, Co Louth


Petit mort before a little life

With regard to Sean McElgunn’s letter (Irish Independent, October 23 “Sex is God’s creation”) please note the following – without good, precious and beautiful sex, none of us would be here!

Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co Donegal


Channelling my dissatisfaction

The night before last I sat in the living room watching the telly. Last night, I actually turned it on. The night before last was better.

Brendan Casserly, Bishopstown, Cork

Irish Independent


October 24, 2014

24 October 2014 Tidy

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the path give away an old computer

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down rabbit for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Michael Hayes was an actor turned TV director who filmed three series of Doctor Who and gave Julie Christie her first screen role

Michael Hayes on location in Tenby in 1961

Michael Hayes on location in Tenby in 1961

5:49PM BST 23 Oct 2014


Michael Hayes, who has died aged 85, was a prolific television director and producer, radio newsreader and former Shakespearean actor .

He is best known for directing three series of Doctor Who (starring Tom Baker, 1978-79), An Age of Kings (1960) and The Promise (1969). He gave Julie Christie her screen debut in the seminal science fiction serial A for Andromeda (1961), directing all seven episodes. His directorial work also includes episodes of Z-Cars, Maigret, Sherlock Holmes, Take Three Girls, The Onedin Line, When the Boat Comes In and All Creatures Great and Small.

Later, his distinctive voice became familiar to many radio listeners when reading the BBC World Service News from 1986 to 1994.

Michael Hayes was born at Barking, Essex, on April 3 1929, to Thomas Patrick Hayes, a civil servant, and his wife Alice (née Tindale), who died when her son was two years old.

He was evacuated to Yorkshire in 1940 and educated at Harrogate Grammar School. In 1944 the 15-year-old Hayes was “discovered” by the playwright Dr Falkland Cary while appearing in a local amateur theatrical production, and was given a principal role in Cary’s latest play, Burning Gold, at the Royal Hall in Harrogate. He told Cary of his intention to pursue a theatrical career, and subsequently achieved his ambition by touring in America with the Old Vic and becoming a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

His BBC career began as a studio manager for the World Service, after which he transferred to television as a floor manager and assistant director. His first credited work as director was An Age of Kings, a linking together of Shakespeare history plays portraying the lives of monarchs spanning the decades between Richard II and Richard III. Hayes directed all 15 episodes, in which he worked with such future stars as Judi Dench, Sean Connery, Frank Windsor, Anthony Valentine and Robert Hardy.

He took on the Doctor Who assignment in 1978 with a short-lived early lack of enthusiasm, but by the end of his third series he had abandoned these misgivings and afterwards counted the actor Tom Baker as one of his friends.

A keen horseman and ornithologist, Hayes moved to the Kent countryside in 1971 and commuted to Wood Lane and later Bush House for the World Service.

He leaves a daughter, Alisoun, from his marriage to the actress Mary Chester, and a son Patrick and daughter Kelly from his marriage to writer Jane Phillips.

Michael Hayes, born April 3 1929, died September 16 2014


Blood pressure test: the chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens. Blood pressure test: the chief executive of the NHS in England, Simon Stevens. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

One of the major failings of the NHS Five Year Forward View (Price of saving the NHS: £8bn extra by 2020, 23 October) is the lack of emphasis on social care and the need for a more integrated approach. Over the past few years social care has been cut back to the bare bone by cash-strapped local authorities. As a result, many disabled and older people will miss out on the services they desperately need for day-to-day life.

Inadequate social care has a knock-on effect and results in further demands on the NHS. For example, the deaf-blind people we support can become more susceptible to falls or require hospital treatment because they didn’t get the support they needed from social care. The government must act and provide the funding that will allow disabled people to receive adequate care, which in turn would reduce pressure on the NHS.

It is vital that social care is not overlooked in NHS planning. The potential long-term savings to the public purse and benefits for older and disabled people cannot be ignored.
Richard Kramer
Deputy chief executive, Sense

• Denis Campbell’s scepticism about Simon Stevens’s “tablets of stone” (the NHS Five Year Forward View) is right (How to save the NHS in just 50 pages, 22 October). As Tony Blair’s senior health adviser, Stevens [now chief executive of NHS England] was instrumental in furthering the privatisation of the NHS started by Thatcher, now continued by Cameron. In 2002 Stevens, with the health secretary Alan Milburn and his adviser Paul Corrigan, met the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, the Californian healthcare company. Further visits followed, culminating in the Commons health committee going as a group to California in 2007 to discuss how to plan a free-market health system and the likely shape of the future workforce.

Blair’s government also invited UnitedHealth, another major privatisation player, to play a leading role determining how NHS services in England should be configured. Stevens became UnitedHealth’s vice-president, later president, for global health, in which position he was credited with playing a key role in resisting President Obama’s health reforms. He was formerly a trustee of the King’s Fund, an oft-quoted, as if independent, health thinktank. I hope I’m wrong that Stevens’s “tablets” will connive at establishing further NHS privatisation leading to a two-or three-tier NHS, funded by insurance payments, modelled on US lines.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• The NHS is asking for £1.5bn a year over the life of the next government, on top of the annual rises it’s been getting so far. That would pay for big once-for-all improvements as well as the routine stuff. If it gets the money, and the economy grows at a reasonable 2.5% a year, then by 2020 the cost of the NHS will have risen from 6.4% of GDP to 6.8%. The GDP we have left to spend on everything else will have gone up by 2.4% a year. Sounds very affordable to me.
Cristina Howick

• There is only one fair way of funding the NHS and that is via income tax. I do not think many people would object to paying, say, an extra 2% if it were hypothecated. Call it the health tax, if you like. It would be easier to collect than a mansion tax and more reliable than an extra tax on cigarettes and alcohol, just two examples that have been floated.
John Marriott
North Hykeham, Lincolnshire

• Abandoning the internal market would save the English NHS £10bn and removing the disastrous Wonga-style PFI loans would save the taxpayer about £50bn. There’s a good chunk of money to invest in patient care.
Dr David Wrigley (GP)
Carnforth, Lancashire

• Recently I had to undergo an unavoidable surgical operation. As the surgeon of my choice was unavailable at the local NHS hospitals, I chose to dip into my savings to be referred to him at the nearest BMI hospital where he worked. I had to stay there for 10 days before being sent home to complete my recovery. I discovered that this excellent hospital had unused bed capacity, so it also accepted some overflow patients from the local overloaded NHS service.

It seems that one reform that would relieve pressure on NHS hospitals would be to allow subscribers to private health insurance to offset these subscriptions against their income tax. This would open up private medical facilities to less affluent taxpayers. It would also increase the services offered by providers of health insurance. It extends personal freedom, also.
Geoffrey Bucknall
Barnard Castle, County Durham

• Once again the debate about the NHS centres around people managing their own lives more healthily on the basis that prevention is better than cure. So we are led to believe that obesity, alcoholism and diabetes all result from people’s lack of willpower and that if they’d only have more self-discipline all would be well.

But people’s choices are constrained by the culture within which they live and by the choices open to them. A glance around any supermarket will show a proliferation of foods high in sugar and fats. Even hospitals host food outlets whose shelves heave with unhealthy foods.

We were promised minimum-priced alcohol and plain-packed cigarettes but this never happened, so we can only conclude that the profits of companies takes priority over the nation’s health. Alcohol, food and cigarette companies can do what they like to maximise their profits and the tab is picked up by the NHS.
Eileen Peck
Benfleet, Essex

• Shortfall for NHS: £30bn (Report, 23 October); shortfall of tax collection: £32bn (Report, 22 October). Problem solved, with a bit left over.
Dr Neville W Goodman

• It was timely reading the article by David Oliver (We should stop talking about burdens, Society, 15 October). Here in Bolton integrated care is rolling out for the over-65s; in one area this has meant a nurse knocking on doors asking to carry out an intimate body examination for pressure sores: no warning and no prior permission sought. Apparently we have all been “risk stratified” without our knowledge in order to prevent us from being admitted to hospital.

The coalition will roll out this US-style healthcare approach in April: more hospital beds will be cut and healthcare moved to the community. I really think we need to start the debate about integrated care: it purports to offer a quality, cost-effective alternative to hospital-based care for elderly people but research on the English pilots has found it is not cost-effective and patients found that they had much less control over their healthcare.

Are we experiencing upheaval and spending millions on a healthcare system that is discriminatory and rations healthcare for the elderly by denying them access to hospitals and specialist care? As David Oliver says, “it is inherently ageist to be talking about how older people should be kept away [from hospitals]”.
Christine Howarth

• If the sustainability of the NHS depends on “a radical upgrade in prevention and public health”, the first step is already well mapped out. The Boorman report on the health and wellbeing of more than a million NHS staff showed clearly what health employers need to do, to benefit population health and staff productivity and to save costs every year. There would also be knock-on benefits to the families of the staff, many of whom also care for relatives. Simon Stevens was interviewed by Jeremy Vine about employers and obese employees on Radio 2 today. A subsequent caller berated the NHS because they saw so many obese staff working there. This neglect of occupational health is real, requiring a caring and co-ordinated national response. Does Mr Stevens have the required heart and guts?
Professor Woody Caan
Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge

• Reading about the future plans of NHS England leaves me deeply concerned (NHS boss Simon Stevens defends privatisation,, 23 October). While the focus of the report on meaningfully addressing the root causes of ill-health and the need for radical upgrade and financial support for prevention and evidence-based public health interventions is to be admired, the defence of the infrastructures of the market and privatisation are deeply problematic. What is worrying about the report is the broad acceptance of the ethic and discourse of privatisation, with its emphasis on personalisation, local flexibility in rules and regulatory requirements and a focus on efficiencies. The issues of infrastructure and organisation in the NHS are issues of funding. Breaking down boundaries between doctors and hospitals and between physical and mental health may in some contexts be useful but they are not THE key issues that are faced by services, professionals and patients. This plays into the “the NHS is unfundable and needs to change” idea where there appear to be no alternatives. There are alternatives beyond the politics of tinkering embraced by the three main parties. The key issues facing the NHS are constant chronic underfunding compared to other developed countries, wasteful internal markets, bankrupting PFI deals, damaging physical and mental health impacts of austerity economics, and a clear failure to understand the way that other core economic issues impact the funding available for the NHS (for instance, tax avoidance, paying £600m in bonuses to publicly owned RBS bankers despite its continued loss making, George Osborne campaigning against EU bonus caps, record income inequality and wage stagnation to name but a few). We pay at least £5bn annually on an internal market that does not improve patient care . We have just seen an unnecessary and damaging £3bn top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The answer to the health of our nation is manifestly not efficiency savings and use of the private sector.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party

Enoch Powell in front of union flag, 1969 Tory Enoch Powell also did badly in the 1964 general election. Photograph: Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Keith Graham (Letters, 21 October) suggests an alternative reason for Patrick Gordon Walker’s 1964 Smethwick defeat. But his theory that it was the intervention of a Liberal candidate, on a higher turnout, that swung the result is factually wrong and also at odds with the national trends in that election. The turnout was down, not up, in Smethwick, by 2% (also nationally). Obviously, third candidate reduced the percentage votes of Tory and Labour. However, across the country the Tories lost a parliamentary majority of 100, their vote down by 6%. In Smethwick their percentage vote increased by over 2%. In contrast, in neighbouring Wolverhampton, one Enoch Powell, with a Liberal also intervening, lost nearly 7% of his vote. Peter Griffiths’ unsavoury campaigning is still the best explanation of the 1964 result.
Dave Padley
Le Bourg, Blanot, France

Foot of new born baby ‘Until mothers are treated with real kindness while having children, mental health problems will continue,’ writes Christina Naylor. Photograph: Kennet Havgaard/Getty Images/Aurora Creative

Your report (£8bn cost of mental illness in maternity, 20 October) made me very sad. I have been involved for 13 years in Home Start, a charity that supports young families, many of which suffer from postnatal depression, by supporting them with trained volunteers in their homes until they feel able to cope. Our small branch supported 68 families with 159 children last year. However, earlier this year, our funding from the county council and health authority ceased after 17 years and we’ve been unable to attract other funding to continue supporting young families in this area. We have been turned down by some funders as we are not considered a deprived area. We still have a team of trained volunteers and referrals from health visitors but are unable to respond without funding. Government and local authority policies are shortsighted and by cutting costs this way create more problems.
Susan Eden
Denford, Northamptonshire

• As is suggested in the Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s report, the cost of £8bn a year is likely to be an underestimate – with considerably greater expenditure if the calculations include the cost of educational intervention and support. Children who, through no fault of their own, do not experience good care in the early stages of life very often later require specialised staff and resources in schools. In over 25 years of working in some of the most deprived parts of the north-east, I’ve witnessed the disastrous effects of poverty and poor care on children’s wellbeing and education. As you also report in the same issue (Council asks: what would you cut?) the effects of “austerity” (aka extreme poverty) on the capacity of key agencies to make a difference is increasing. Thus, at the present rate we should, sadly, be expecting an above-inflation rate of increase on the £8bn already cited. When will we start to join up the dots?
Dr Simon Gibbs
Reader in educational psychology, programme director for initial training in educational psychology, and head of education, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, University of Newcastle

• Your article highlighting the lack of prenatal mental health care misses the most important point. That is the quality of care women have during childbirth. Having had four children, I know how women can feel abandoned (left to get on with it), and how first-time mothers, especially, can feel shocked at the pain. Luckily it is temporary. Everyone coos over the new baby, and the mother’s ordeal is forgotten. Until mothers are treated with real kindness while having children, mental health problems will continue. The present shortage of midwives will only make things worse.
Christina Naylor
Languenan, Brittany, France

This handout picture taken on September Rescuers from the Italian navy help migrants to leave an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean sea. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Many thanks for the report on deaths of migrants at the frontiers of Europe (‘It costs $10,000 to get from A to B…’, 21 October). In October 2013, with its Mare Nostrum operation to rescue migrants at sea, Italy took on a responsibility that the rest of the EU shirked. Mare Nostrum has not been exempt from criticism – for its military nature, lack of transparency, its failures in view of the fact that according to UNHCR 3,000 people have drowned since the start of this year. But the operation at least started using a different perspective. Italy’s attempt to enact a mere “humanitarian corridor” adapted to the Euro-Mediterranean context is a first step.

The Mare Nostrum operation is scheduled to end on 1 November. The European commission and the EU member states have not proposed any solution to take over from the operation. The planned strengthening of border controls by Frontex through operation Triton in the Mediterranean (Frontex Plus) is not a sea rescue operation. However, more than a humanitarian rescue operation is needed. To put an end to migrants’ deaths in the Mediterranean and elsewhere requires increased entry into the European territory for those who choose it or are forced into exile.

We think of the English Channel as our frontier. But as experienced by migrants including refugees, the UK frontier is in Calais, the Mediterranean and UK consulates worldwide. To help improve the problems faced by migrants in Calais, Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean requires action by the whole EU, including the UK.
Bill MacKeith

A city council security guard photographs a piece of street art attributed to Banksy in Bristol A security guard photographs a piece of street art attributed to Banksy titled The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum after it was defaced in an alleyway in Bristol. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters

George Monbiot (‘Cleansing the stock’ and the doublepeak we must defeat, 22 October) could be said to be restating George Steiner’s arguments for what he called the “retreat from the word”, whereby language is deformed and then reformed entirely empty of human or humane content, terrifyingly in Nazi Germany, and no less disturbingly in “the benefit units” and “collateral damage” of our linguistically perverted times. Some of the worst offenders in this debasement of language are those responsible for what passes today as educational policy, just as guilty as the militarists in hanging on to miserable and demeaning metaphors.

“To know what we are talking about: this, in more than one sense, is the task of those who want a better world,” sighs Monbiot at the end of his piece. Some sigh … little hope.
Bruce Ross-Smith
Headington, Oxfordshire

• George Monbiot rightly deplores the deliberate use of euphemisms to disguise unpalatable truths. Their insidiousness is such that he admits that even in his own article there may be “dehumanising metaphors” that he has failed to spot. However, he focuses on mainly military usages. More sinister are those everyday euphemisms that are so familiar that we fail to recognise their veiling of the truth. Warming is something we do to teapots and cold beds, something welcome, so global overheating is called “warming”. The damage caused to the climate is called “change”. Horrific illustrations are called “graphic”. And so on. Could the Guardian produce an anti-euphemism supplement to add to the style guide?
Gerry Abbott

• Language expresses biases in many ways. Why did you not describe the Banksy “mural” (Report, 22 October) as vandalism? If it’s because it’s “art”, then perhaps the “blue paint splashed across it” could also be thought of as art, a gestural response to the crude and trivialised parody of a superb Vermeer.
Dr Donald Smith
Haddington, East Lothian

Ofsted criticises academy chain ‘Inspection plays a critical role in driving up standards in education,’ writes Dave Penman of the FDA. Photograph: Barry Batchelor/PA

Zoe Williams states that the problem with Ofsted “is the fact that the entire culture – targets and terror, name and shame, compete and count – discourages what education thrives upon: trust, cooperation, participation” (The entire schools inspection culture is the problem, 20 October). As the union representing Ofsted inspectors, we would agree that education thrives upon trust, cooperation, participation, but dispute that the culture of inspection is one of targets and terror, name and shame, compete and count. Inspection plays a critical role in driving up standards in education. Inspectors are civil servants – politically impartial and appointed under authority of the crown – who work hard to ensure that inspections are conducted robustly and independently within the legal responsibilities laid down by parliament. That is why they believe passionately that Ofsted must inspect every institution without fear or favour, and must continue to guard against politicisation.

Driving up standards in education is rightly at the forefront of most political agenda but it can often be deeply divisive: like most public-sector organisations, Ofsted is neither perfect nor dysfunctional. It’s time to recognise the vital work undertaken every day by these dedicated, passionate public servants who work countless unpaid hours to deliver high-quality inspections in the interest of the nation’s children. Perhaps fingers also need to be pointed at politicians and commentators whose agendas are not progressed by a balanced and evidence-based debate.
Dave Penman
General secretary of the FDA, the union representing senior staff in Ofsted, including Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI)

• Zoe Williams is right to identify that competition is the driving force behind Ofsted, but needs to place its creation in a historical context. In the 80s, the Tories had ambitions not just to privatise the provision of schools, the first stage of which was the introduction of the Local Management of Schools, but also to give each parent a monetary voucher to be spent in whichever school they chose. While the voucher system proved unworkable, the concept of a market was introduced though the notion of “parental choice”, which in turn required criteria upon which such choice could be made. These were introduced in the form of the common curriculum for all schools (except private ones), constant national testing and league tables, with Ofsted created to rate each school on a standardised scale.

As has been pointed out repeatedly by reputable academics ever since, the whole system is ruthlessly based on the demands of free-market economics at the expense of the educational wellbeing of our children. And it is to the eternal shame of Labour and the Liberal Democrats that they have complied in not just the perpetuation of such an iniquitous and damaging system but continue to advocate its expansion.
Colin Burke

• Zoe Williams’ important and perceptive article highlights that “competition can only be fostered in a world of constant measurement”. True, but what is unfortunately not widely recognised is that Ofsted’s approach to measurement is fundamentally flawed. As a physicist and, until recently, a parent governor for my children’s primary school, I have been appalled at the level of statistical innumeracy at the core of Ofsted’s methods.

A key example is Ofsted’s Data Dashboard, which governors are expected to use to inform their decision-making. Remarkably, the dashboard provides no information at all on the statistical reliability of the data – schools are compared and ranked with no indication of the extent to which the variations can be explained by natural statistical fluctuations. Often, the year-to-year fluctuations within a single school are larger than the variation between so-called “similar” schools (and the methods behind identifying “similar” schools are far from robust and well-established).

We teach our first year physics undergraduates that to make a measurement without including an estimate of the error bars is, to quote Wolfgang Pauli slightly out of context, “not even wrong”. One can only imagine what the famously irascible Pauli would have made of Ofsted’s abuse of data.
Philip Moriarty
School of physics and astronomy, University of Nottingham

• Zoe Williams perfectly illustrates the fundamental flaw in so much of social policy – if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count. Or expressing the McNamara fallacy: you start by measuring what is valuable and end up only valuing what is measurable.
Rick Hall

• After 22 years of doubtful practice and constant moving of goalposts, it is time to abolish Ofsted and re-empower local authorities with local advisers and inspectors who understand the neighbourhood problems of difficult schools. Put the £70m released by ending Ofsted into a massive development of Sure Start centres, linking them to their local primary schools in order to promote language development. Over a few years this will help ensure that many more toddlers get the home support, parental interest and talking and listening skills that prepare them for making good progress in school.

Investment in the cultural as well as the physical development of the earliest years of life, through Sure Start centres, is a key to successful education for many children, and especially for those growing up in impoverished communities.
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

• As an ex-chief examiner and chair of an A-level board with 35 years of experience, I did not find this report surprising (Fears over poor marking as appeals for A-level and GCSE exams hit new high, 22 October) but Russell Hobby’s concern over inequities as to the ability of schools to challenge grades is disturbing. Boards do have rigorous systems to try to meet the required standards, and examiners are usually reasonably qualified and try their best but are bedevilled by restrictions of time and cost. For instance, a procedure whereby principal examiners and chiefs would laboriously go through all scripts on the borderline to make sure the grade was correct has long since been abandoned as too time consuming and expensive.

As the joint council said, most of the mark changes were “relatively small”, the vast majority of these appeals would have been covered by borderlining and schools would not have had to pay. At grade-setting meetings there is an elaborate procedure of checking scripts but not enough to time to really do it despite the appearances of so doing. Scripts that have been wrongly marked are flagged up and passed to a principal for remarking but these are only a tiny proportion of small samples so it is known that there must be others.

Marking is not an exact science in most subjects so re-marks are essential, but if the numbers are increasing it would seem the reason is more to do with time and expense than the markers and the procedures in themselves. A return to borderlining would mitigate against the observed inequities.
Susan Saunders Vosper

Coffin with brass handles ‘My mother’s funeral cost us around £3,500; her insurance policies paid out £80 and £120 respectively.’ Photograph: George Doyle/Getty Images

You report Ukip’s assertion that profits from Mike Read’s Calypso single were to be donated to the Red Cross “for their Ebola outreach programme” (Report, 23 October). It’s worth mentioning that the Red Cross responded by saying it cannot accept donations from party political sources, and that its job is to help precisely those that Mike Read and Ukip “negatively refer to”. Oh, and it doesn’t have an Ebola outreach programme. And before the single was withdrawn, it was made clear that all proceeds from sales were for Ukip party funds.
Dan Adler
Farnham, Surrey

• Jonathan Watts reports from Rio de Janeiro that 402 square kilometres – “more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan” – of the Brazilian Amazon was cleared in September (Report, 20 October). Being English and reading my English newspaper in England this is of limited value. How many Isles of Wight is that?
Chas Moore
Wickford, Essex

• I read with interest the funeral directors’ comments about people taking out their own penny insurance policies to pay for their funeral (Return of the pauper’s funeral, G2, 21 October). My mother had told us we would not have to bear the expense of her funeral as she had two life insurance policies, which included one taken out by her mother in 1924. She died 10 years ago aged 93, and her funeral cost us around £3,500; the insurance policies paid out £80 and £120 respectively. So much for prudent planning.
Mabel Taylor
Knutsford, Cheshire

• I told my stepmother, a dressmaker, and a very good one, who was very fussy about her appearance, that I belonged to a profession that didn’t judge people by the way they dress (Why do academics dress so badly, 21 October). “Well, they ought to,” she snapped back.
Dr Roger Leitch

• Surely it must be the Selfiescene (Letters, passim)?
Roger Walker



Sir, The proposal to pay GPs £55 for each new patient diagnosed with dementia beggars belief (report, Oct 22). Diagnosing illness is not an extra service commitment, and introducing financial incentives for a diagnosis sets a dreadful precedent. What about other conditions, cancer for example? The fact that this proposal has been put forward illustrates the gap between the objectives of an honourable profession and a managerial bureaucracy that is intent on its deconstruction.

The reality is that patients do not always want a diagnosis, especially with conditions like dementia. In these circumstances, many individuals, who in the early stage of the disease are coping independently or with family support, do not want a label for their condition. There may be medicines that slow the process, but they are of no interest to an individual who is avoiding the issue, and while they are mentally competent their wishes should be respected. To subject such individuals to tests and scans to prove they have dementia is inhuman, yet that could be the result of this proposal.
John Spivey
Consultant surgeon (Ret’d), Watermillock, Cumbria

Sir, It is essential to promote good health through preventive medical care, rather than just treatment. Enormous credit must go to those GPs and community services that regularly check patients for ageing conditions and recommend preventive measures, such as establishing a lifestyle — including exercise and diet — which is known to limit the onset of dementia.
RKM Sanders, MD
Tewkesbury, Glos

Sir, Having an aged parent with advanced Alzheimer’s, I’m strongly supportive of better and earlier diagnosis of dementia, but I find NHS England’s proposal deeply disturbing. Well-intentioned it may be, but this initiative looks more like an ugly combination of a medical bounty and a deeply flawed PR gimmick.
Paul Connew
St Albans

Sir, When my wife started to have memory problems, our GP referred her to a local psychiatric hospital. A consultant psychiatrist came to our house and tested my wife, which took the best part of an hour. A preliminary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia was made and later confirmed by other tests. When are GPs going to find time adequately to test patients for dementia?
Peter Woodcock
Wigan, Greater Manchester

Sir,Many GPs have little training in mental health, and until this is rectified it will be best to refer patients who may have dementia to community mental health teams. I assisted with running a memory clinic, so saving the time a GP would take. The screening included a memory test and also a look at how well a person deals with everyday tasks, which was useful for social services to assess the level of help needed. The problems that dementia brings can be eased by close co-operation between the NHS and social services.
Alistair Milner
Retired mental health nurse,
King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Sir, I have more than 40 years’ experience of caring for older people, and understand the importance of early and accurate diagnosis of conditions like dementia. However, the idea that GPs need a financial incentive is ridiculous. That money should instead be spent on training professionals who work with older people to identify the signs of dementia and offer swift support.
Leon Smith
Executive vice president,
Nightingale Hammerson

Sir, I would pay my GP double the £55 fee for him not to tell me I have a crippling disease, for which there is no cure, and for which treatment is forbidden by Nice (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) until it’s too late.
Kate Saunders

Sir, Many GPs would, I’m sure, be happier to see the proposed £55 payment for each diagnosis go instead to the Alzheimer’s Society or a local memory clinic.
Dr Larry Amure, BCHIR
Over, Cambs

Sir, A bored tunnel at Stonehenge of at least 4.5 km (2.8 miles) long would solve both the traffic problems with the A303 and visual blight around this important part of our heritage. The National Trust’s recent advocacy of a 2.9km tunnel, protecting its own land, is short of what is needed. We have asked the government to consider a 4.5 km tunnel.
Reuben Thorpe
Chairman, Rescue: The British Archaeological Trust, Hertford

Sir, Word lists for Scrabble seem to be encouraging some barbarous crimes against language (News, Oct 23) but the words can take care of themselves. Let our transatlantic cousins “unlearn” words. I prefer to “forget” them, which is not only more elegant linguistically but scores three points more.
Edward Turner

Sir, I was about to congratulate you on keeping our Shropshire eateries out of your guide to “Best Food Places”, but then you sneak in, near the end, a Ludlow pub. Can’t you help keep the trendies and yuppies out of our beautiful county? Please.
Ken Broad
Church Aston, Shropshire

Sir, In your report “Chocks away as air officials say ‘roger’ to Spitfire trips” (Oct 20), you say that the Messerschmitt Bf 109 “with its stubby wings cannot match the Spitfire for agility”. One advantage of the German plane generally was that it had fuel injection, whereas Spitfires had carburettors. Messerschmitts could go into a steep climb, in which the Spitfire might stall.
James Swain
Tadworth, Surrey

Sir, It would be fascinating if those who have been so scathing of Renée Zellweger’s new look (“Why Renée’s face broke the rules”, Times2, Oct 23) were brave enough to post pictures of themselves on social media, together with their ages, so we can see the justification they have to judge others.
Richard Spoerry
Broadstairs, Kent


Without landlines there would be little communication in places like Cornwall

People in remote areas often rely on landlines to keep in touch with people

People in remote areas often rely on landlines to keep in touch with people

6:55AM BST 23 Oct 2014


SIR – I don’t think Cornwall could have been included in the survey of landline usage across Britain. Without a landline there would be little communication in many areas.

I always call to a landline if possible because at least then I know where the recipient is and there is less chance of the call breaking up or the recipient being tempted to talk while driving or being otherwise distracted.

Mag Humphreys
Wadebridge, Cornwall

SIR – My internet went down for about five minutes the other day so I headed downstairs and spoke to my family.

They seemed like nice people.

John Tilsiter
Radlett, Hertfordshire

Brushing up

SIR – If schools are to supervise the brushing of children’s teeth, then at a bare minimum they will need to employ a dental care professional.

There is a network of general dental practices throughout Britain, conveniently situated in every town and village, that is already fully compliant with regulations. Why not pay them for the task?

Howard Koch
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

White water

SIR – I am not surprised at the longevity of Viv Coffey’s skimmed milk.

Skimmed milk has had everything that imparts any taste or flavour removed from it, and is little more than coloured water.

I do not worry about the use-by date on my gold-top as it is consumed with relish long before then.

John Newbury
Warminster, Wiltshire

Lesson for trolls

SIR – Internet trolls can avoid longer sentences (“Tougher sentences won’t stop trolls”) by using more full stops.

Peter Iden
Totnes, Devon

We cannot resolve the problems in our relationship with the EU within the existing framework

The European Scrutiny Committee has recommended the repeal of European laws Photo: REUTERS/STEFAN WERMUTH

6:56AM BST 23 Oct 2014


SIR – The present EU architecture undermines British democracy and generates massive economic and political instability throughout Europe.

We must reassert the sovereignty of Parliament and enact the present Referendum Bill to allow British voters to have their say as soon as possible.

The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am chairman, published its unanimous report in November last year recommending the repeal of European laws, where necessary in our national interest, by enacting legislation “notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972” (thereby bypassing the European Court of Justice) and reasserting the use of the veto. We would then make our own laws and would continue trade and political cooperation within Europe.

It is simply not in our national interest to pretend that we can resolve fundamental differences in our relationship with the European Union within the existing framework of European law.

If the Liberal Democrats stand in the way, then the Coalition must be ended.

Sir William Cash MP
London SW1

SIR – José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing president of the European Commission, has been criticised widely for his comments supporting the free movement of people within the European Union.

However, over the last decade Mr Barroso has been entirely consistent in his statements. The free movement of people is a cornerstone of the ultimate EU objective of a European super-state.

It is our own politicians who have told us that the EU is something that it isn’t.

Terry Lloyd

Zimbabwe should be invited to join the wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph

The Cenotaph: Lutyen's masterpiece

The Cenotaph: only Commonwealth members take part in the Armistice Day ceremony Photo: Getty Images

6:57AM BST 23 Oct 2014


SIR – I was born in Southern Rhodesia, which later became Zimbabwe, a country that we were once proud to describe as the last bastion of the British Empire in Africa.

This year marks the centenary of the First World War. Zimbabwe is no longer a member of the Commonwealth so, despite suffering many casualties, she is barred from laying a wreath at the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph. Rhodesia was only 24 years old when the war broke out. The bulk of the population, and therefore its soldiers, was of British stock.

An article in January voiced Australia and New Zealand’s concern regarding the “whitewashing” of the contributions made by their military to the war effort. It seems that the Rhodesian dead are suffering the same fate.

Joseph Franco
Cape Town, South Africa

The contract of marriage is rightly enforceable by law

A senior judge has described state support for marriage as ‘social engineering’ Photo: PHOTOLIBRARY

6:58AM BST 23 Oct 2014


SIR – The notions of Nicholas Mostyn, the High Court family judge, that there should not be two classes of adjudication depending on whether there happens to be a marriage” and that state support for marriage is “social engineering” are utterly misconceived.

The sole justification for the involvement of the courts in the distribution of marital property is that divorce involves the unravelling of a contract. When people get married they freely and formally agree to share their property: and that agreement, like any other, is rightly enforceable by law.

If an advocate stood up in the Commercial Court and protested that the court should not be influenced by a trivial matter such as whether or not the parties had entered into a contract with each other, he or she would likely be reported to the Bar Council. It is disappointing to find that a senior judge is unable or unwilling to grasp this fundamental point.

Alexander Pelling
Lincoln’s Inn, London WC2

Children’s inheritance

SIR – A review of inheritance tax is welcome, but why not keep it simple and fair by excluding homes from the liability?

Most people work all their lives to end up with a home they own, so they resent 40 per cent being taken by the Government. If they can pass on the value to their children, this will help more people to own their own homes without taxpayer-funded schemes.

It has been shown that the cost of collecting inheritance tax negates, to a large extent, the net value to the Treasury as it is so complex. My proposal would also reduce the number of tax inspectors needed to collect the tax, which will otherwise surely need to increase as more people become liable.

Mary Sutherland
London SE23

Roaring success: a boy poses in front of the Merlion statue, Singapore’s trademarked mascot  Photo: Getty Images

6:59AM BST 23 Oct 2014


SIR – We have much to learn from former colonies such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Some years ago I was offered a temporary post in Singapore as a professional engineer, but first the country’s Department of Labour had to assess my skills and experience against local availability. Once employed, I remained responsible for my own housing and medical expenses and paid local taxes.

In order to overcome labour shortages, quotas were introduced for contractors to import overseas labour, with employment terms monitored to prevent abuse such as poor accommodation or low wages.

Singapore’s approach to controlling skilled professionals and unskilled workers helps to drive its economy forward without reducing employment opportunities for its citizens or putting extra burdens on the state.

Robert Reynolds
Long Compton, Warwickshire

SIR – As one born and educated in colonial Singapore, I know of many aspects of its legislation that would be welcomed by other British citizens, including stiff punishment for littering, vandalism, graffiti, weapons and animal abuse. No softer community service option may take the place of fines or prison sentences.

Diana R Lord
Cockfosters, Hertfordshire

SIR – Two of my children – and their children – live in Singapore and I’m very pleased that my grandchildren’s education and health expectations are so much better than they would be in Britain. As regards “democratic deficiencies”, it’s certainly not a police state. The authorities simply don’t put up with any nonsense and there is a much more disciplined ethos in schools and society generally. We could learn from that.

Dick Soper
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Britain’s jobs rich recovery isn’t helping the Chancellor’s coffers Photo: PA

6:07PM BST 23 Oct 2014


SIR – I am a stay-at-home mother of twins whose professional life is becoming a distant memory. Practically everything my family eats is cooked by me from scratch, with the exception of bread and occasionally fish fingers or baked beans.

This is sometimes rewarding, mostly tedious and undoubtedly a complete waste of my former skills. But I do this because I believe that to rely on convenience foods is to compromise my family’s health.

How can policy-makers be persuaded to recognise that overworked households cannot remain healthy households?

Incidentally, our children’s school dinners, even at their well-run state school, continue to be dull and nutritionally unimpressive.

Rosalind Oliver

SIR – Instead of spending money on child care, why doesn’t the Government give it to the mothers who stay at home?

Maybe then we would see a return to better-mannered children who benefit from a family life and are not shunted off to child-minders.

Shirley Clayton
Pitsea, Essex

SIR – While I respect the decision of any mother to go out to work if she wishes to, I feel that mothers have a very important job at home bringing up the next generation, which is being totally undervalued.

Perhaps if one parent stayed at home there would be no need for teachers to take on parental duties such as brushing teeth.

Sheila Robbie
Killearn, Stirlingshire

SIR – George Osborne wants to encourage stay-at-home mothers to “work”. The NHS wants us to take responsibility for our physical and mental health. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Borrowing for September rose to £11.8 billion, reportedly due to weak tax receipts. The majority of mothers returning to work would fall beneath the tax threshold, so increased funding for child care would offer no financial benefit to the Government.

Mr Osborne wants to encourage stay-at-home mothers into jobs. This mother intends to encourage him out of one.

Margaret Rogers
Stroud, Gloucestershire

SIR – Many grandparents will incur a full-time unpaid child-care burden, since professional child care is unaffordable.

What will happen as grandparents are forced to retire later?

D M Watkins
Plaxtol, Kent

SIR – Back-to-work mothers, frozen eggs, toy-boys for the over-40s, otherwise lots of ice-cream: all good for the economy. First things second?

The Revd Lionel Atherton
Buxton, Derbyshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – After the Ryan and Murphy reports, Irish people know the deeply scarring consequences of blind loyalty to an organisation. Some within Sinn Féin now rank alongside those Catholic bishops that put the protection of their own institutions ahead of the protection and needs of the victims of abuse and, indeed, ahead of simple, human decency. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – If given the choice I wonder if Gerry Adams would prefer trial by media or trial by a paramilitary “court”. I think I know which I would prefer to receive my “sentence” from. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Gerry Adams is again being “tried” by the media and politicians without due process. The irony is that many of those involved are amongst a coterie of individuals that also took part in savage, vitriolic attacks on John Hume when the peace process was in its infancy and subsequently, as that process matured into the Belfast Agreement.

It is hard to believe it now but that campaign against John Hume was every bit as vicious as the current campaign waged against Mr Adams. Thankfully, they along with many others persevered and brought that part of the peace process to its final conclusion, with the signing of the Belfast Agreement, much, I might add, to the discomfort and displeasure of many of those individuals who would have preferred to see the process fail. – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, – Sinn Féin’s vice-president Mary Lou McDonald TD is reported as claiming that the party has no information on child abuse. Does she really believe that the IRA punishment beatings and kneecappings of minors were not child abuse? Does she really believe that nobody in Sinn Féin had any involvement in this? Incredible. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Reading the plethora of letters from readers slating Irish Water, one could be forgiven for thinking that Ireland was an otherwise well-run country with Singaporean efficiency and Swiss neatness.

In fact, the daily conduct and aspirations of the average citizen are broadly reflective of the body politic and its progeny, Irish Water.

We moan about traffic and delays but jaywalk, ignore junction boxes and drive in bus lanes. We lament the poor quality of water and the blight on the landscape from turbines and pylons, but allow ugly one-off houses with septic tanks polluting the groundwater. We crib about taxes and young people struggling to buy houses but demand loose credit and resist efficient land-use taxes.

Now we grudgingly accept charges for water but demand allowances and credits for all and sundry and then complain the system is complicated and requires our PPS numbers. After decades ignoring the high salaries and generous pensions of employees in monopolistic semi-State companies, whose unions then demanded slices of company equity, we are suddenly exercised, with a Tea Party-like fervour, by remuneration in this new utility .

I could go on, but I would just ask these newly emerged experts on water treatment and corporate management why they are surprised by any of this? – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Writing in the October 9th edition of the London Review of Books, James Meek has this to say about the water supply in the English town of Thanet (the target seat for the Ukip leader Nigel Farage in the British general election in 2015): “Thanet’s water supply and drainage system belong to Southern Water, which is owned by a consortium of Hong Kong investment funds and Australian and Canadian Pension funds, advised by an American and a Swiss merchant bank. Sewage spills by Southern regularly force the closure of Thanet beaches”.

The future for “Irish” Water? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – As part of our bailout conditions, the Government was required to begin charging for water in order to make additional significant contributions towards paying back the loans.

Government spin-doctoring has been trying hard to make us believe that water should be conserved. If we conserve this “product”, the vendors (Irish Water) won’t make any significant profit on what they’re selling, and the company will contribute little towards the loan repayments.

I appeal to all Irish patriots to use as much water as you possibly can to help with performance-related pay, a fancy head office building, new PR consultants to better communicate the spin, high-tech meters and the ongoing maintenance thereof, bill collection, employee pension contributions, Irish Waters’s likely imminent rebranding, etc.

Perhaps then, after the huge running costs are deducted, if there is any profit after the first decades of Irish Water’s existence, some loan repayments will be made. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – The entry into the debate on university entrance criteria in Ireland of the dean of admissions at Harvard University Dr William R Fitzsimmons (October 22nd) illustrates one of the fallacies that dog this debate. Harvard is a private institution with an endowment of more than $36 billion and tuition fees annually of some $40,000. No student has a right of entry to the university – no matter how bright they are. The dean of admissions will have as his goal each year to admit a balanced class of freshman – balanced in terms of intelligence, leadership potential, race, gender, sporting ability – and balanced also in terms of having the potential through family connections or otherwise to increase that $36 billion endowment in the future.

Irish universities have a quite different model for admission. For good or ill, they are governed by a concept of fairness to all citizens of Ireland and that fairness is expressed in terms of the student’s perceived academic ability as measured by the Leaving Certificate examination. In the Irish model, the child of the factory worker is meant to have exactly the same chance of entry as the child of the billionaire property developer, the future poet as the future entrepreneur, if they have the same academic ability. The model may be skewed by extraneous factors – by money and class – but it is a proper model for a democratic republic.

The introduction to the Irish system of a personal essay by a candidate for admission would be a major additional obstacle in the attempt to provide a fair system of admission. Apart from the ability of money to distort the impartiality of such a system through professional assistance in essay writing and essay purchase on the internet, there are no such things as unbiased professional judges for such essays and no acceptable criteria by which they can be judged – other than by academic ability as measured by an unbiased examination such as the Leaving Certificate.

We have an excellent system. Don’t mess with it! – Yours, etc,


Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – While it is true that the majority of students attending universities such as UCD and TCD with very high Leaving Cert entry requirements come from the middle or higher classes, it is not true to infer that those who attain lower points at Leaving Cert level or those from poorer backgrounds are deprived of third-level education in this country. Indeed the development and expansion of the institutes of technology sector over the past 20 years in particular has accounted for ever increasing numbers of students from working class and poorer backgrounds participating very successfully in third-level education and has provided them with opportunities that were never provided to them by the universities prior to this. Indeed, in a recent survey Tallaght IT came second in terms of the employment rate for its graduates relative to other institutes of technology. Many of these students will tell you that they prefer what they perceive as the more supportive environment provided in this sector in comparison with what they perceive as being provided in the corresponding environment in the university sector. – Yours, etc,


Lecturer in Mathematics,

Institute of Technology,



Sir, – It was much remarked in the late 1990s and early 2000s that there was a direct correlation between the mushrooming in the fee-paying secondary school sector and the abolition of fees at third level in 1995. Fee-paying schools in certain catchment areas grew exponentially as some parents no longer had to put away money to send children to college. It is for this reason that the fee-paying schools cluster in urban areas where there is a university close by.

The fee-paying option is not open to parents in rural areas, and some provincial cities, who still have to pay to accommodate their kids in university cities and towns, which is an ever-increasing burden given rising rents. This is unfair to parents outside the cluster because they are not able to avail of a taxpayer-funded subsidy, which is limited to certain postal addresses in Dublin.

It is also clear that since the universal abolition of university fees, the subvention to fee-paying schools has siphoned funds away from the third-level sector, leaving our universities slipping in the global rankings. It also sets up an uneven playing field between State schools and fee-paying schools in the same catchment area – by siphoning off the cream of the crop, fee-paying schools are degrading State-funded infrastructure. – Yours, etc,



Co Clare.

Sir, – Attempting to right the wrongs of our society by picking on private schools is not only inappropriate but an avoidance of reality.

The reality is that most parents whose children don’t attend private schools wouldn’t want them to. It’s not in the family ethos and, lest we forget, ethos is what we are talking about. Free education is a right and an entitlement that most are happy to avail of; that is, of course, if they can get places for their children, in a sector that successive governments have failed to resource adequately.

Out of approximately 733 secondary schools, 55 are fee paying. Were they to close tomorrow or collectively enter the already overstretched State system, the cost to us the taxpayer would be considerable. Sure, the teachers’ salaries in all schools are paid by the State. That really is an entitlement. However, the State in turn should be delighted that parents are providing additional facilities at no cost to the taxpayer.

For that, should “private” schools be penalised by losing control over their intake?

Is it really necessary to attempt to gain a “popular” advantage by eliminating the ethos of a small minority of schools that have years of tradition behind them, to satisfy some strange notion of equality? – Yours, etc,




Dublin 6.

Sir, – This month we celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Thomas Davis, one of the most attractive figures in the Irish patriotic pantheon. It is strange, however, how many authors have been in error about the date of his birth. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, in his seminal Thomas Davis, The Memoirs of an Irish Patriot 1840-1846, published in 1890, states that Davis was born on October 14th, 1814. This has been repeated by almost all subsequent writers and historians, including the late eminent historian Prof TW Moody, who wrote eloquently on Thomas Davis at the centenary of the death of Davis in 1945 and in 1966 in a public lecture in association with the golden jubilee of the 1916 rising. In 1995 the Australian historian Prof John N Molony wrote a stimulating biography of Davis entitled A Soul Came into Ireland: Thomas Davis, 1814-1845, in which he again gives the date of birth as October 14th, 1814. The curious thing is that Prof Molony’s book has a full-page photograph of the gravestone of Thomas Davis in Mount Jerome cemetery on which is given the correct date of birth – October 24th, 1814. Presumably all who have written on Davis visited at some time his grave in homage to him but failed to notice his proper date of birth.

Until that is the late Prof Helen F Mulvey produced her Thomas Davis and Ireland: A Biographical Study, the finest and most judicious single volume on Davis, in 2003. Prof Mulvey gives the correct date – October 24th, 1814 – and notes that Kevin MacGrath’s article in the Irish Book Lover in June 1952, which gave important facts about the Davis family, had given the correct date. So as a little product of the celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Thomas Davis let us, once and for all, get his birthday right!

There are, of course, many more serious aspects of the bicentenary reflections on Davis than his actual birthday. As Gavan Duffy noted in his final eulogy “the life he led was the greatest lesson” – he remains an inspirational figure because of his unselfish character and his moral courage. As WB Yeats observed in 1914, Davis is “the foremost moral influence on our politics”. John O’Hagan, who knew Davis, writing in 1890, of his “grace of nature and manner” reached for an Italian word to describe his “gentilezza”.

Samuel Ferguson saw the civic virtues taught by Thomas Davis, which he captured in his lines about making Ireland the nation it might be:

“Self-respecting, self-relying, self-advancing,

In union or in severance, free and strong;

And if God grant this, then under God, to Thomas Davis

Let the greater praise belong!” – Yours, etc,


Sir, – Thanks to John McKenna (“The best thing since sliced bread? Ban the sliced pan”, Health + Family, October 21st) for highlighting the nutritional deficiencies of white bread. I am old enough to remember the coarse brown bread we all had to eat during the war years when white flower was in short supply. Eating it took some getting used to.

We were too young to appreciate the health benefits of wholemeal bread, and it is fair to say our poor parents were not up to speed on nutritional information, either. Unknown to us was the fact that after the white flour was extracted from the grain the residue, which contains the wheat germ, was used as animal feed. Nutritionally, the animals were better fed than we were!

Up to the mid-1800s wheat was ground between large stone wheels. These could only produce flour that was not fully white because stonegrinding was unable to remove the germ which contains all the nutrients in the grain. With the advent of steel rollers, white flour came into being. The result was white bread. However, it was more expensive to produce. Only the well-off could afford to buy it and the poor continued to buy the coarse brown variety.

Older readers will remember with fondness the wholemeal small loaf that Bewley’s produced in the 1950s. Two slices from this delicious brown loaf at breakfast kept one satisfied well up to lunchtime. With white bread one is likely to end up full of wind by mid-morning! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Frank Greaney (October 18th) seems to be entirely missing the point of bus lanes – we shouldn’t be using them to help general traffic flow, but to help buses and cyclists avoid that self-same traffic! Bearing in mind the mountains of data to the effect that public transport (and even more so cycling) is good for the environment and quality of living in cities, and that it usually those of more limited means who use public transport, we should be making more efforts to facilitate buses and bicycles in urban areas.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess to being, as a student obliged to cycle into the city centre every day, one of Mr Greaney’s “usual suspects”. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Sir, – Arriving into Dublin Airport this week I noted with some surprise that the automated border control gates (e-gates) being trialled at Dublin Airport are only in use from Monday to Friday and from 9am to 5pm.

Do these gates belong to a public service union? If so, why haven’t they negotiated a lunch break as well? – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Further to Gerry Adams’s view of John Redmond (Home News, October 20th), pots and kettles are called to mind when Gerry Adams accuses someone else of being a “man of violence”. – Yours, etc,



Irish Independent:

There was a speech given by an American during his 1946 campaign to be elected for the first time as a congressman. John F Kennedy was 29-years-old then and remains relevant at a time when many are disappointed with our political system. He gave speeches of an elegant quality, the like of which are rarely heard today.

He quoted an earlier American politician and diplomat, John W Davis, when he said: “First, then, make choice of your political party, on grounds that satisfy your reason as best you can, by tradition or by environment or sentiment or impulse if you have not the wit to do better. In any event, make choice.

“Do not wait until you find an aggregation of demi-gods or angels; they are scarce – some people think they are even scarcer than they used to be. Perhaps even you might not feel comfortable in their midst. And do not expect to find a party that has always been right, or wise, or even consistent; that would be scarcer still.

“Independent judgement and opinion is a glorious thing, on no account to be surrendered by any man, but when one seeks companionship on a large scale, he must be content to join with those who agree with him in most things and not to hope to find a company that will agree with him in all things.”

Mr Kennedy led a busy political life from 1946 to his death in 1963 when he was US President. His personal life with its flaws is well known, but not so much is known over here of what a hard-working, serious politician he was. We need inspiration in our times, when there is so much brutal violence in the world and in parts of the Middle-East (where our Irish UN Peacekeeping soldiers are facing more dangerous times). When Mr Kennedy was asked about his legacy, he replied he would like it to be said “he kept the peace”, with regard to the Russian missile crisis in Cuba. That situation required delicate diplomacy and patience.

His times were different, when it was possible to solve intractable political problems with diplomacy. Whereas in our times this is almost impossible, with merciless killings and torture of men, women and children taking place in war-torn countries of the Middle East, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

Mary Sullivan, College Road, Cork

Time for shock and law in Dail?

Regarding the infantile behaviour leading to the suspension of the Dail yesterday, I wonder would it be possible for those responsible for the Leinster House creche to assist the Ceann Comhairle in the seemingly-impossible task of making TDs keep all of their toys in their prams?

Should this not be feasible, might the Ceann Comhairle then be allowed to run an electrical current through the TDs’ seats to bring them to order should they appear unruly or disruptive?

This would also have the benefit of guaranteeing that our public representatives are both plugged in and switched on.

T G Gavin, Dalkey, Co Dublin

Politics must evolve

Enda Kenny, Gerry Adams and Micheal Martin – maybe unbeknownst to themselves – definitely have something in common.

In terms of their political evolution, vision and judgement, if gauged by the geological time scale, they would comfortably inhabit the Triassic Period when our little island was still solidly part of the continent and fellow dinosaurs roamed freely.

At that time Enda would have been very familiar with all kinds of seismic shifts, due to the initial tectonic movements at the time. The big bonus was that it was definitely the pre Phil Hoganite era and the fault lines of Irish Water were still dormant. In those turbulent times, it was every man for himself and the art of cronyism was only evolving.

Gerry would also have been very happy in the shifting sands of the time, as it was pre-IRA and he wouldn’t be pestered by those pesky journalists about membership of illegal organisations. His howling against the volatile and volcanic elements would have been to little or no avail.

Micheal would be equally contented, as the ghosts of Haughey and the lads were just zygotes making their way in the murky and soupy seas. Thankfully, he was where he was, the economy was safe and the financial wrecking ball of Fianna Fail hadn’t yet been spawned.

Essentially, these three men of uncertain vintage are more suited to a different era, rooted in and suited to the distant past where the ancient art of politics was just that – ancient, more in tune with Neanderthal modes of conduct in a different epoch.

Evolution, in the meantime, has been ruthless in rooting out the weak, the error-prone and the dispensable: their respective parties would do well to consider the serious and seismic consequences of inaction before the next general election.

John Healy, Bishopstown Road, Cork

With so many of our politicians “making mistakes” and “learning lessons” I propose the establishment of a new third-level institute to resolve the problem – The Learning Institute for Mistaken Politicians” (LIMP).

The award would be made by a Tolerant Aware Public (TAP) and would be entitled the Doctorate in Gravitas (DIG). The costs of the new institute would be kept off balance sheet because they would be borne by the consultants to Irish Water and bonus-awarded staff of that same semi-state. There would be no shortage of candidates for enrolment and the teacher-pupil ratio would be acceptable to the Department of Education since there would be no shortage of volunteer lecturers.

This suggestion should “wash” with the public and would “clean up” some problems for the government.

Liam Cooke, Coolock, Dublin 17

Mairia Cahill case

Two issues have arisen lately in this sad series of events in relation to the Mairia Cahill case.

How can Gerry Adams apologise in Leinster House on behalf of the IRA, if he was not a member of said organisation? And how can the Taoiseach ask for a full investigation into how the IRA deal with issues like this, when they are a faceless group? That is simply not possible.

Declan Carty, Sandymount, Dublin 4

Action needed on cyclopaths

Our pavements are no longer safe for walkers and have been taken over by cyclists. A whole generation of cyclists now use the pavements as a right. They are unaware that it is prohibited by law, simply because of the lack of enforcement over many years. Maybe the cycle lanes could be converted into safe walkways?

Harry Mulhern, Kilbarrack, Dublin 13

EU is not our friend

Referring to banking debt (private debt) A Leavy (Letters, October 23) writes: “it was all Irish debt and was, therefore, our responsibility”.

Nonsense. That rational would suggest that if any Irish-owned private business found itself in financial difficulty, and on the verge of bankruptcy, it could then turn to the State (Irish taxpayers) for support. Why have bankruptcy laws at all?

The EU does not have our best interests at heart. It is an affiliation of countries where the large dominates the small. As for the EU countries that underwrote our so-called ‘bailout’ loan? They stand to make billions in profit, all coming from taxes imposed on Irish citizens.

John Bellew, Dunleer, Co Louth

Make mine a large one

Should anyone now ordering a whiskey with water be entitled to a bonus pint?

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin 9

Irish Independent


October 23, 2014

23 October 2014 Leaves

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the drive

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Lynda Bellingham – obituary

Lynda Bellingham was a versatile actress who as the Oxo mum brought ‘man-appeal’ to the business of gravy-making

Lynda Bellingham

Lynda Bellingham

8:44AM BST 20 Oct 2014


Lynda Bellingham, who has died aged 66, became a minor national treasure playing the “Oxo mum” in a series of television commercials that ran for 16 years; in the 1980s she was also cast as Helen Herriott in All Creatures Great and Small.

When the BBC’s popular Saturday night drama series — based on James Herriott’s novels about the ups and downs of life as a rural vet in the Yorkshire Dales — launched in 1978, the part of James’s wife was taken by the actress Carol Drinkwater. But when the series resumed in 1988 after an eight-year break, Lynda Bellingham took over, bringing to the part what one critic called “a slight but unwelcome element of brittleness”, and remaining for the final three series.

But that was nothing compared with the epic 16 years she spent as the wholesome middle-class mother in the Oxo television commercials making gravy as her on-screen family squabbled around her. Chosen from 1,500 hopefuls in 1983, she and her screen family became the successors to Katie, Philip and their children, the original Oxo family who dominated television advertising for a generation.

“No half-respected actor would consider it,” she mused once, “but thank God it hasn’t ruined my career.” In retrospect, she was grateful for the part (“it paid for school fees and a nice house”), and recognised that the mini-dramas played out in the various advertisements had broken new ground as the first soap-style commercials. Certainly, as The Daily Telegraph noted in 1988, creating a warm, human feeling about stock cubes was a triumph of emotionally manipulative copywriting.

While at the height of her fame as Britain’s gravy-boat queen, Lynda Bellingham coped with a personal crisis when her second marriage broke down amid allegations that her husband, Nunzio Peluso, had subjected her to violent outbursts, had held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, and was stalking her. Finally, in 2000 following their divorce, Peluso was fined £4,000 for harassing her and handed a seven-year restraining order.

The Oxo campaign was showered with industry awards, and adding “man-appeal” to the business of gravy-making made her one of the most recognisable women in Britain. But it was pulled in 1999, when the Oxo makers decided that the idea of a family sitting down to eat together was “just completely outdated”. For her part, Lynda Bellingham felt depressed that family meals had been deemed a thing of the past; on the other hand, she blamed the mumsy image it perpetuated for her not being considered for the part of the man-eating Mrs Robinson in the West End stage version of The Graduate.

The demise of the Oxo campaign signalled a marked change of direction, and she appeared on American television as a brothel-keeper in a drama about Hans Christian Andersen, and on British screens she was seen in bed with Albert Finney in My Uncle Silas, a kind of homage to Finney’s famous 1963 film role in Tom Jones.

Not that she was a stranger to raunchy roles. She was Jimmy Tarbuck’s stooge, a nurse called Norma Snockers (complete with uplift bra), in the 1973 television series Tell Tarby, made her film debut in the lewd Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers (1977), and was the saucy star of Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976), produced by her first husband Greg Smith (she regretted doing both films). More to her liking was the role of Alexandra, the ill-fated wife of Czar Nicholas, which she played in a $12 million Russian epic filmed in Russia called The Last Days of the Romanovs (1997).

Lynda Bellingham and Christopher Timothy in All Creatures Great and Small (BBC)

Lynda Bellingham was born Meredith Lee Hughes on May 31 1948 in Montreal, Canada, to an unmarried teenager called Marjorie Hughes, and adopted by a British family called Bellingham when she was four months old. When her adoptive father, a BOAC pilot, retired from flying to farm at Aston Abbotts near Aylesbury, she attended Aylesbury High School for girls. She appeared in several school plays and performed at a local Shakespeare festival as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 1966 she enrolled at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Television fame arrived in 1971 when she appeared in General Hospital. As the Oxo campaign became part of the national landscape she sought some variety by starring with James Bolam in the decidedly adult ITV sitcom Second Thoughts (1991), and then as Faith in the spin-off hit comedy series Faith in the Future (1995-8), with Julia Sawalha playing her grown-up daughter, which won the British Comedy Award for an ITV show in 1997.

In 1994 she was cast as the soft-hearted Mrs Lupin in the BBC’s adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit, and in 2000 she starred in the women’s drama At Home With The Braithwaites. A stint on The Bill as the evil Irene Radford in 2004 was followed between 2007 and 2011 by regular appearances as a panellist on ITV’s lunchtime chat show Loose Women.

On the stage she made an early appearance as a tart in Norman, Is That You? (Phoenix, 1975) starring the comedian Harry Worth, and in 1981 was Richard’s Queen in Robin Lefevre’s production of Richard II at the Young Vic. Feminists protested outside the theatre when she played a seasoned striptease artiste in Peter Terson’s Strippers (Phoenix, 1985), although she was the only woman cast member not required to shed any clothes.

She starred with David Jason in Look No Hands (Strand) and with Janet Suzman and Maureen Lipman in The Sisters Rosensweig (Old Vic, 1994). More recently her stage work included Losing Louis with Alison Steadman and Sugar Mummies at the Royal Court. She counted her starring role in Calendar Girls on a national tour (2008-09) and in the West End as one of her greatest triumphs.

In 2002 Lynda Bellingham endured another personal drama when her home in north London was firebombed as she slept by a former tenant, whom she believed was mentally disturbed, and who subsequently killed himself. In 2013 she announced she had been diagnosed with colon cancer, and the following year revealed it had spread to her lungs and liver. In August 2014 she decided to end her chemotherapy treatment, but hoped she would survive to see her final Christmas.

She published a volume of memoirs, Lost and Found, in 2010 and a second, There’s Something I’ve Been Dying to Tell You, in 2014. An accomplished cook, she confessed to always using Oxo in her gravy, but revealed that her secret was to add half a pint of sherry. She was appointed OBE in 2014.

Lynda Bellingham’s first marriage in 1975, to the Confessions film producer Greg Smith, lasted only a year. With her second husband, Nunzio Peluso, whom she married in 1981, she opened an Italian restaurant in Muswell Hill, north London, and had two sons. The marriage was dissolved after 15 years, and although she said she would never marry again, on her 60th birthday, in 2008, she married her third husband, Michael Pattemore. He and her two sons survive her.


Anonymous prisoners in their cell Anonymous prisoners in their cell. ‘Despite the rhetoric of our leaders, the purpose of prison is to deter those rational enough to be deterred.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Thank you for reporting the rising rate of prison suicides as an issue of important concern (‘Terrible toll’ of prison suicides, 22 October). One practical suggestion that might ease the problem would be to extend the responsibilities of “listeners” in our jails so that they also become “watchers”. Establishments have a group of inmates, trained by the charity Samaritans, to listen to the anxieties of fellow prisoners who might be potential suicides. These listeners, who often work closely with wing officers, are widely credited with preventing some self-inflicted deaths which might otherwise occur. Prison staff, in my experience as a former listener, work hard to minimise suicides. They hold a list of high-risk self-harmers or worse. Those on it are kept under observation by officers using the peepholes in cell doors.

The cut in prison staff numbers by 10,000 over the past three years may mean that some officers reduce the frequency of their observation of high-risk inmates. So it would be a good idea to utilise the services of the existing listeners to support the efforts of prison officers in keeping watch over potentially suicidal inmates in their cells. A policy of giving such extra responsibilities to trusted prisoners would be in accord with the government’s approach of using offenders in the field of rehabilitation. Such a move would need an amendment to the Prison Service Instructions rulebook, but it would surely be a well-supported initiative to help prevent prison suicides.
Jonathan Aitken

• As someone who worked for over 30 years in the probation service, I cannot help but associate the raised rate of suicides in prisons in England and Wales with the removal of probation staff from prisons. Until a few years ago, all adult prisons had a team of probation staff who could play an important role in liaising between an individual prisoner and his or her family through their probation colleagues in the prisoner’s home area. They also understood the prison system, could work with prison officers on the wings, with medical staff and with governors, and could alert them to risk where vulnerable prisoners were concerned. The safety of prisoners at risk of suicide was ultimately down to the vigilance of prison staff, but probation staff could perform a vital liaison function. With cuts to prison budgets, probation staff have all but disappeared from prisons, and nothing comparable has replaced them as far as I am aware, and, of course, the probation service itself has been scandalously dismantled by the government.

Ever since John Major told us in the 1990s that “we must condemn a little more, and understand a little less”, there as been a gradual move away from the consideration of offenders’ welfare, and from that it is a short step to considering that their lives are somehow less important. One result of that is the indefensible level of suicides in our prisons that you have reported.
David Atkinson
Wimborne Minster, Dorset

• It is with utter dismay and extreme apprehension for the future justice system in Britain that we have to watch this government ignore the increasing suicide rate in Britain’s prisons (Exposed: suicide crisis gripping the prison system, 18 October). We are advised by Andrew Selous that as minister for justice he will listen to the prisons and probation ombudsman and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. I would feel heartened with such a comment if it wasn’t for the fact that the PPO and HMIP are agencies of the Ministry of Justice and most likely will have to face another round of cuts this year.

Then there is the report that makes it plain that the secretary of state is going to defy an appeal court judgment and let staff use force to restrain teenage inmates (Grayling to let staff use force at ‘super-jail’ for children, 17 October). Not only is this government defying the appeal court but it is also defying the European court of human rights by denying prisoners the vote. So excuse me if I state I have no faith in what the justice minister promises as this government has made it clear that it wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and most likely doesn’t believe that prisoners or teenagers in custody should be entitled to any rights.

This is the downward slope to an undemocratic even autocratic state.
Phil Cosgrove
Public and Commercial Services Union (Ministry of Justice)

• It is disgraceful that the government plans to spend £85m building a new unit to incarcerate children. Although a minister has described it as “a far cry from the traditional environment of bars on windows”, it is difficult to believe this when the building plans are based on those for a young offender institute (YOI) previously planned for the site, and when the proposed rules include the use of adjudications and physical force for the purposes of good order and discipline, measures taken directly from the rules for YOIs. We are told that this establishment will provide a high-quality education, although neither the content nor quality of this can be judged as detail is not included in the bill now before parliament. But to expect any custodial institution, however good the education provision, to address the complex needs and entrenched behaviours of these children within the average 80-day sentence period is completely unrealistic.

At a time of constrained finances, and when the number of children in custody is reducing, any extra money should be invested in well-evidenced interventions that are more likely to work. Funding the construction of a new custodial facility for children is an expensive experiment that is almost certainly doomed to failure. There is no evidence to support the assertion that outcomes will be improved; on the contrary, all the available evidence suggests that placing children in large establishments, miles away from their home community will undermine efforts to reintegrate them successfully into society on their release.
Pam Hibbert
Chair of trustees, National Association for Youth Justice

• Chris Grayling’s determination to give custody officers the power to use force on children to make them follow orders is even worse than you indicate. It is true that this flouts an appeal court judgment that such restraint would risk breaching a child’s right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. But we should also remember the high court ruling in 2012 that secure training centres had been sites of “widespread unlawful restraint” for at least their first 10 years. There would have been hundreds of child injuries, not “several” as you report. Two children died after being restrained: 15-year-old Gareth Myatt and 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, who killed himself after being restrained. The government says it will ban officers from inflicting severe pain on children to get them to follow orders, yet we know that situations can quickly escalate.

If ministers can’t find it in their hearts to ditch these brutal plans in memory of Gareth and Adam, and the many other children who have suffered abuse in prisons, why not show some consistency? Staff in secure children’s homes, which also house young offenders, are prohibited from using force to secure compliance and are never allowed to deliberately hurt the children they look after.
Carolyne Willow

• Despite the rhetoric of our leaders, the purpose of prison is not to make vindictive voters feel better nor to warehouse out of sight and out of mind those whose mental health is disrupted. It is to deter those rational enough to be deterred, and to rehabilitate those capable of redemption. The ever-growing recourse to profit-driven firms to provide prisons is diametrically opposed to the provision of reform and rehabilitation in prisons. Returns on investment are boosted by overcrowding and understaffing. Underpaid and undertrained staff are understandably under-motivated when it comes to the extra effort required to turn troubled inmates into citizens who’ll go straight on release.

But these inadequacies in the system also result in punishments far in excess of those handed down by the courts, determined by the psychological frailty of those jailed and by the capabilities and motivation of the jailers. The result is the growing number of prisoners rendered beyond any return to a constructive contribution to society by death at their own despairing hands. Harsh, privately-run prison regimes are a fraud perpetrated on the victims of crime.
Mary Pimm and Nik Wood

• The rising numbers of suicides in England’s prisons puts the lie to any notion that Chris Grayling’s regressive and uncivilised penal policies are defensible. His cuts and regime changes have made the tasks of prison officers immeasurably harder, and the vulnerable, and their families outside, inevitably suffer. But can anyone actually do anything about Grayling’s cruel intransigence, and his continuing denial that his prisons are in crisis? That a man with such indifference to the harm that he does can hold on to public office betrays the kind of political institution Britain has become.
Mike Nellis
Emeritus professor of criminal and community justice, University of Strathclyde

• In reference to your article on the chief inspector of prisons’ annual report (‘Terrible toll’ of prison suicides, 22 October), I thought we had abolished the death penalty.
Peter Waterson
Bishopbriggs, Glasgow 

Refurbished William Morris Gallery preview While the refurbished William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, east London, shown here with Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow tapestry on display, is fully accessible, Temple Newsam is not so good for wheelchair users, says Pauline Eyre. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA Archive/Press Association Images

On its UK tour so far, The Vanity of Small Differences, an earlier work by Grayson Perry (Report, 22 October), has appeared on the egalitarian white walls of city centre galleries with no entry cost. At the moment, however, the six tapestries are on show at Temple Newsam House in Yorkshire, a Tudor-Jacobean mansion owned by Leeds city council, one and a half miles from the nearest train station and accessible by bus only in the summer months. Entry to the exhibition is free but contingent on a payment of £4.50 for entrance to the house.

Maybe the decision to take Perry’s epoch-defining exploration of the connections between class and taste to one of Yorkshire’s bastions of high culture was an experiment. I’m willing to be persuaded that Grayson Perry approves of his tapestries jostling for attention in rooms that are stuffed with furniture and decorative objects belonging to assorted lives from long ago. After all, that’s what the tapestries are about, isn’t it? So far, so good. I like experiments.

I am less easily persuaded that it was a good idea to house The Vanity of Small Differences in a series of poky bedrooms across two floors of a minor stately home that is unable to offer full access to wheelchairs. To see the first five tapestries, I was required to transfer from my own electric wheelchair to something resembling a witch’s ducking stool in order to be manually dragged backwards up the Grade I-listed staircase. Once at the top, I would transfer to another wheelchair to be pushed round the exhibition by an employee. I turned down the opportunity. I’m used to relinquishing my autonomy when necessary, but I still have some pride. “Well, it’s not for everyone,” said the assistant.

There was a lift to the top floor to see the remaining tapestry, but even here, life was not straightforward. Because fire regulations dictate only one wheelchair up there at a time, I was made to wait till the previous incumbent had had enough. Luckily, he or she didn’t feel the need to watch any of the three 45-minute documentaries which are such an illuminating part of the show (but which are freely available over the internet at 4oD).

The curator, speaking to a large Ilkley literature festival audience in one of the house’s ground-floor state rooms (easily big enough to show most, if not all, of the tapestries), vigorously defended the decision to use rooms with poor access. At least I know my place now. I won’t bother trekking to Temple Newsam to spend my £2-an-hour earnings, then.
Pauline Eyre
Skipton, North Yorkshire

Fans of FC United of Manchester. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

When a pair of tickets for West Ham’s opening game of the season against Tottenham costs the same as a standing season ticket for Bayern Munich, it’s clear that the “customers” (Editorial, 20 October) have gained nothing from the Sky TV revolution that’s put untold billions into dodgy players’ and dodgier owners’ pockets. Not only are we ripped off at every opportunity, we have to put up with kick-offs at ridiculous times to suit armchair and pub audiences.

Premier League football is crying out for a democratic fans’ revolution, but while we wait for the glorious day, uber-capitalist Richard Scudamore and the other suits who run it could at least impose a £25 maximum admission charge for all clubs so that the average fan could more easily afford a match ticket. Such a measure would preserve the competitive advantages of the bigger grounds and would hardly be noticed, given that gate receipts are small beer in comparison to TV revenue. I realise the chances of this happening are on a par with those of my beloved Hammers winning the Champions League, but one thing they can’t take from us is that we can still dream.
Bert Schouwenburg

• Your editorial on football democracy mentioned fans on the board, fan-owned clubs and for fans to have more say in our game. There is a shining example of this and we’re called FC United of Manchester. Far from FC United “being over by Christmas”, as our detractors once prophesied when we were formed in 2005, we move in to our new £6m home soon – £2m towards the cost of the ground was raised by the fans themselves. We are a co-operative, all major decisions are taken by the owners (the fans), we vote not to have a sponsor on the shirt and voted on admission prices and for fans to pay what they can afford for season tickets.

Football is pricing out working-class fans, especially youngsters. It’s now a birthday treat for them to watch their club when it should be a birthright. Fans of all clubs should not let petty rivalries stop them from organising together to take back the their game from the greed merchants, spivs and crooks of the modern game.
Alan Quinn

• Good to see Sunderland fans getting a refund on tickets after their team’s poor performance (Sport, 22 October). Perhaps this idea could be extended and made retrospective. After nearly 40 years’ watching Crystal Palace, I’d be owed a small fortune.
Michael Cunningham

locked computer keyboard Is the civil service preventing staff making their views known? Photograph: Alamy

It is not just in the prison service that constructive dissent is discouraged and punished (Sacking threat to prison whistleblowers, 21 October). A culture where staff are expected to keep their heads down, their mouths shut and to toe the line would seem to permeate the whole of the civil service, even in the most minor matters. My husband has just retired after 40 years’ exemplary service in HMRC. In April he wrote to the Guardian to correct some factual errors on tax and civil servants’ pay in an article by Polly Toynbee. There was no whistleblowing involved, everything he said was already in the public domain. However, HMRC found him guilty of “serious misconduct” for contacting the press without permission and he received a 12-month written warning. As a result he was denied the customary long-service certificate and award when he retired.

It would seem that writing one letter was considered to outweigh 40 years’ service. In such petty ways does the civil service aim to keep its employees on a tight rein. Small wonder that morale among staff is at an all-time low. All my husband’s colleagues said how much they envied him being able to leave the service now.
Name and address supplied

Milburn 'poised for government role' Alan Milburn has delivered a stark warning to the government on how society is poised to become permanently divided. Photograph: Matthew Fearn/PA

The commission on social mobility will be too kind to all the political parties unless it tackles the unrelenting efforts of those in power in both local and national government to force citizens on the lowest incomes into unmanageable debts (Milburn delivers broadside against parties on poverty, 20 October). The recipe is toxic. First, dice incomes in work and unemployment while the prices of food and domestic fuel are escalating. Then chop council tax and housing benefits, leaving the rapidly reducing incomes to pay increasing rents and allow rents to increase. Let councils increase the council taxation of benefits from 8.5% to 20% while freezing it for everyone else. Allow to simmer indefinitely in a flavouring of the prohibitive costs of justice. Then ensure this toxic abuse of power cannot be cleansed by closing the door to judicial review in the criminal justice and courts bill now ending its passage through parliament.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• The same day that “David Cameron vows to create 3m apprenticeships” (Report, 20 October), repeating George Osborne’s previous impossible pledge to the Tory conference, Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility confirms overall apprentice starts are down and completion rates are falling. PS, they’re not apprenticeships, anyway, but subsidised job placements.
Patrick Ainley
University of Greenwich

• The value of a £140m house in Park Lane has increased by £6m in the past few months (Balls seeks to calm fears in London over mansion tax, 21 October). In the same issue, we read that Alan Milburn recommends that the living wage be implemented by 2025 at the latest (Society on the brink of permanent division, government warned). Says it all really, doesn’t it?
Terry Philpot
Limpsfield Chart, Surrey


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (20 October) is probably right that Russell Brand is a “dilettante”. But he challenges the status quo and stands up for those who are on its sharp end, like the young mothers in Newham. 

So he strikes a chord with tens of thousands of young – and older – people. Does anyone think that a book by Ed Miliband, who can’t even bring himself to support strike action by teachers or nurses, would fly off the shelves like Revolution is doing?

Alibhai-Brown is appalled that Brand won’t vote. Yet we all know that millions will abstain in the general election next year. Why? Because there is nothing to choose between the policies of three, now four, pro-big-business parties.

We need a party for the men and women who aren’t part of the corporate elite, a party for trade unionists, NHS users, pensioners, the low-paid, immigrants and young people who need decent jobs and homes. When there’s a real choice, and a chance to make a difference, you’ll get high turnouts, as we saw in Scotland’s referendum.

Nobody I know is sitting around “awaiting the revolution”. We’re defending services, fighting cuts, striking for a living wage, standing in elections as anti-cuts candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), offering people an alternative. We got 10 per cent in Salford last year. If we had PR we’d have a councillor or two.

Alibhai-Brown’s “institutional overhaul” of Parliament won’t bring them flocking to the polling stations – but a clear stand and a socialist alternative is like a breath of fresh air for the disenfranchised.

Paul Gerrard

Chair, Salford against Cuts, Manchester

Edward Collier (letter, 17 October) asks: “In what parallel universe is it fair that it takes 33,000 votes to return one Labour MP and 120,000 for a Lib Dem and 285,000 for a Green?” It was the system that delivers this inequity that a large majority of people actually voted for in a referendum.

I personally regret that decision, but I accept that it is the democratic will of our people, expressed in a referendum where every vote was equal.

Pete Rowberry

Saxmundham, Suffolk


Freudian slip raises a real question

There is something desperate about Ed Miliband’s outrage over Lord Freud’s case of foot-in-mouth.

He must know that this is not an issue that can be just harrumphed away. As a society, we have to look at the situation honestly. Nobody should be discriminated against, but if we want disabled people to participate in economic activity, we have to recognise that they cannot make the same contribution as an able-bodied person. It’s a big ask to expect an employer to take on a disabled person at the same wage as an able-bodied person.

The solution is for the welfare system to make up the difference. Such a policy would be perfectly acceptable to disabled people, and less of a burden on the Treasury than paying a full disability allowance.

What’s astonishing is that the Government doesn’t seem to see that – and David Cameron couldn’t spot a prime opportunity to steal Ed Miliband’s thunder.

Simon Prentis



A huge concern making billions can reasonably be expected to employ a proportion of disabled people at its own expense. A smaller outfit could be damaged by having an employee who, through no fault of their own, was less than optimally productive; in such a case it could be to the benefit of the firm, the disabled employee and society at large for the taxpayer to contribute towards their payment.

That was possibly the point that Lord Freud was trying to make. But he made it badly, and should not be a spokesman for that reason.

He may, however, have done us all a service in raising the issue of “worth”. It could be said that no one is worth more than, say, 20 times the living wage. But many are paid vastly more than that and it is their worth that needs to be challenged.

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

The welfare minister claimed some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour and that he’d think about how those unfortunates who might wish to work for £2 an hour might be helped to do so.

A Freudian slip or another Tory “reform” in the offing? The mindset of this divided old political party – the oldest in Europe – is as revolting as it is revealing towards the end of this parliament, no matter how artfully disguised at the beginning.

They’re out of touch, out of time –and out of here soon if there’s to be any fairness at all about politics.

John Haran

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex


Theatre of the absurd

I warmly applaud Adrian Hamilton’s article on the current theatrical fashion to rewrite or traduce plays that are part of the European classical canon (15 October). However, he omitted to mention the mauling British dramatists have received at such hands.

In a recent National Theatre production of what was claimed to be Marlowe’s Edward II the audience was greeted with a cast dressed in bomber jackets, all smoking furiously and constantly on mobile phones. Scenes were added that are not in the Marlowe text and much that is was omitted.

The nadir of this production, to me, was the scene where Edward’s court celebrated his Pyrrhic victory over the barons by waving plastic swords and dancing the hokey-cokey accompanied by an electric keyboard player on stage.

I certainly do not wish for museum theatre, but production companies must be more honest with theatre-goers. They should announce that this is Ms X’s or Mr Y’s version of Oedipus, Medea or Edward II and omit the names of Sophocles, Euripides or Marlowe from their publicity. But that might not generate the same ticket sales.

Dr Mick Morris

Hamilton, Lanarkshire


For the second time in recent months I have walked out of a London theatre because of a play’s continuous and unnecessary foul language.

Needless to say I was denied a refund of my ticket price. As I bought my ticket at the box office just before the start of the matinee performance I could not have been aware of the vile content.

Have other theatre goers also been caught out like this, and is it not time all prospective audiences were warned about such disgusting content? In future I will check before buying tickets, assuming I ever consider risking attending another London theatre venue.

Adrian Appley

Bromley, Kent


John Walsh is quite right in advocating the abolition of tiresome theatre intervals (16 October). However, I would request one exception – the Royal Opera House.

Much of the seating at this ludicrously expensive venue is unfit for humans (battery chickens spring to mind) and 30 minutes is about all I can bear on the rare occasions that I find myself being “entertained” there.

David Bracey

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


Now, the three-day passport

Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) lavished well-deserved praise on the Passport Office after receiving her passport five working days after applying.

Who can beat this? I applied for my passport renewal on 6 October and received my new one on 9 October – after three working days! My congratulations to both the Passport Office and the Post Office.

Whatever new brooms, prunings or decapitations were necessary to achieve such high standards of public service efficiency, pray that they may soon be mobilised to thin out the dead wood in our NHS.

Ben Marshall

London N11


Housing help for the super-rich

Labour proposes a “mansion tax”. This will tax out middle-class Londoners who bought their houses more than 30 years ago and are now coming into retirement on modest pensions. How will that benefit any housing crisis other than that of the very wealthy wanting central London properties?

When the middle classes got driven out of Manhattan in the 1980s it became a ghetto for the super-rich and a once thriving and diverse cultural scene has been reduced to fighting for the best opera seats and to-be-seen-in restaurants.

Stephane Duckett

London SEII


Ebola or not, we need Heathrow

Nigel Long (letter, 16 October) moves away from a sensible discussion about Ebola to confuse the debate about Heathrow.

It is not airline and airport operator profits driving the need for growth but the long-term interests of current and future generations who will be affected by a decline in our international standing if Heathrow’s hub status is allowed to decline further.

Simon King

Twickenham, Middlese


Sir, The proposal to pay GPs £55 for each new patient diagnosed with dementia beggars belief (report, Oct 22). Diagnosing illness is not an extra service commitment, and introducing financial incentives for a diagnosis sets a dreadful precedent. What about other conditions, cancer for example? The fact that this proposal has been put forward illustrates the gap between the objectives of an honourable profession and a managerial bureaucracy that is intent on its deconstruction.

The reality is that patients do not always want a diagnosis, especially with conditions like dementia. In these circumstances, many individuals, who in the early stage of the disease are coping independently or with family support, do not want a label for their condition. There may be medicines that slow the process, but they are of no interest to an individual who is avoiding the issue, and while they are mentally competent their wishes should be respected. To subject such individuals to tests and scans to prove they have dementia is inhuman, yet that could be the result of this proposal.
John Spivey
Consultant surgeon (Ret’d), Watermillock, Cumbria

Sir, It is essential to promote good health through preventive medical care, rather than just treatment. Enormous credit must go to those GPs and community services that regularly check patients for ageing conditions and recommend preventive measures, such as establishing a lifestyle — including exercise and diet — which is known to limit the onset of dementia.
RKM Sanders, MD
Tewkesbury, Glos

Sir, Having an aged parent with advanced Alzheimer’s, I’m strongly supportive of better and earlier diagnosis of dementia, but I find NHS England’s proposal deeply disturbing. Well-intentioned it may be, but this initiative looks more like an ugly combination of a medical bounty and a deeply flawed PR gimmick.
Paul Connew
St Albans

Sir, When my wife started to have memory problems, our GP referred her to a local psychiatric hospital. A consultant psychiatrist came to our house and tested my wife, which took the best part of an hour. A preliminary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia was made and later confirmed by other tests. When are GPs going to find time adequately to test patients for dementia?
Peter Woodcock
Wigan, Greater Manchester

Sir,Many GPs have little training in mental health, and until this is rectified it will be best to refer patients who may have dementia to community mental health teams. I assisted with running a memory clinic, so saving the time a GP would take. The screening included a memory test and also a look at how well a person deals with everyday tasks, which was useful for social services to assess the level of help needed. The problems that dementia brings can be eased by close co-operation between the NHS and social services.
Alistair Milner
Retired mental health nurse,
King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Sir, I have more than 40 years’ experience of caring for older people, and understand the importance of early and accurate diagnosis of conditions like dementia. However, the idea that GPs need a financial incentive is ridiculous. That money should instead be spent on training professionals who work with older people to identify the signs of dementia and offer swift support.
Leon Smith
Executive vice president,
Nightingale Hammerson

Sir, I would pay my GP double the £55 fee for him not to tell me I have a crippling disease, for which there is no cure, and for which treatment is forbidden by Nice (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) until it’s too late.
Kate Saunders

Sir, Many GPs would, I’m sure, be happier to see the proposed £55 payment for each diagnosis go instead to the Alzheimer’s Society or a local memory clinic.
Dr Larry Amure, BCHIR
Over, Cambs

Sir, The letter about altering the rules of pub darts (Oct 22) reminded me of a wheeze I used as a youth seeking a free pint. I would challenge any darts player to a game of 301 on the condition that their score was doubled. The impossibility of a win only dawned on some cocksure opponents near the end of a match — and I got my beer.
John Taylor
Potters Bar, Herts

Sir, Professor John Miles says that driverless cars would ease congestion (report, Oct 21) but this claim is flawed. These cars are programmed to stop in the event of danger and once people trust in the technology, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of ordinary cars will take advantage, thus subverting the rules of the road.

A driverless car at a standstill will stop the traffic behind it, hence it becomes a creator of congestion, not a traffic-flow solution.
Andy Cole
Cleethorpes, Lincs

Sir, Fresh eggs lie horizontally at the bottom of a vessel of cold water (letter, Oct 22) because they contain only a small amount of air. As they age, more air enters through the shell. Eggs that are not completely fresh — but still fine to eat — will tilt upwards. If the egg floats, then it has gone bad.
Kay Bagon
Radlett, Herts

Sir, Catholics are permitted to divorce in certain situations (letter, Oct 21). Code of canon law 1153 states: “A spouse who occasions grievous danger of soul or body to the other or to the children or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse a reason to leave . . .”. Those divorced in such circumstances can receive the sacraments, provided they are not in another relationship.
Dr Owen Gallagher
Glenavy, Co Antrim

The reasons for the increase in appeals against GCSE and A-level marks, and subsequent changes in grades (report, Oct 22) lie both in the examining process itself and the way in which it is overseen. Many scripts are now marked not on paper but online. Markers no longer attend standardisation meetings. Instead, the team leader is a voice on the phone, and the senior examiner a face on a screen. Marking has become a solitary process.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many older, experienced markers have responded to these changes by giving up. A lot of scripts are being marked by last-minute recruits, some of whom will only do it once. Greater volatility in the workforce inevitably leads to greater volatility in the standards of their work.

Stability may be achieved in time; the process would be assisted if the regulatory body Ofqual more obviously understood the process it oversees.
Andy Connell


The pilot experiments with opening GP surgeries seven days a week Photo: Alamy

6:55AM BST 22 Oct 2014


SIR – Many GPs regularly work in the evenings and at weekends and they don’t earn the sums that Roger Strong mentions in his letter.

The £100 an hour figure quoted is an estimate for a small number of practices taking part in the Government’s Challenge Fund pilot that is experimenting with opening GP surgeries seven days a week. The British Medical Association has concerns about this pilot. We do not feel this is a sensible use of limited resources at a time when GP services are struggling to deliver basic care during the week because of rising patient demand, falling resources and a shortage of GPs. We need to address this crisis before we start asking an already overstretched and underfunded service to do more.

Despite being in an election year, we need all policy-makers to develop long-term and sustainable solutions to the problems facing our health service, and not indulge in short-term gimmicks aimed at making headlines.

Dr Richard Vautrey
Deputy Chairman, BMA’s GP Committee
London WC1

Sadistic trolls

SIR – Isabel Hardman (“Most trolls are more to be pitied than hated”) says, based on her personal experience, that most internet trolls are “people who never grew up enough to deal with irritation”.

This conclusion is at odds with a recent study by academics at the universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg and British Columbia, which found that, of all personality traits, it was sadism which showed the most robust associations with trolling. The authors of the study concluded that cyber-trolling was an internet manifestation of everyday sadism, and explained that trolls therefore are likely to suffer a dispositional tendency to enjoy hurting others, tending to respond in the affirmative to psychology test statements such as “Hurting people is exciting’’. As sadists troll because they enjoy it, this may explain why, when victims reveal their suffering, this further encourages the trolls.

Isabel Hardman’s advice that the best way of dealing with trolls is to ignore them may, in fact, be correct. Though her advice to send angry trolls a “lovely YouTube animal video” may not be psychologically consistent with the first part of her advice.

Dr Raj Persaud
Royal College of Psychiatrists
London W1

Pheasants are causing havoc on the roads Photo: John MacTavish

6:56AM BST 22 Oct 2014


SIR – I recently had a close “air miss” with a suicidal pheasant while riding my motorbike. It flew across me at chest height when travelling at around 50 miles per hour (me, not the pheasant). I am sure that, had I not instinctively breathed in, it would have ended in tears and feathers.

Nick Edge
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I told a local estate manager I had hit three of his pheasants, causing expensive damage to my car. He said he would send me an invoice for the dead birds.

Julia Boardman
Chipping Norton, Oxford

Price and life of milk

SIR – Dairy farmers throughout the country are being forced to sell milk for less than it costs to produce. We often pay more for bottled water than for milk.

Surely if the Government can propose a minimum price for alcohol, then it can do the same for milk and allow farmers to make a reasonable profit.

Kevin Platt
Walsall, Staffordshire

SIR – On Tuesday morning I finished off a four-pint container of skimmed milk with a use-by date of September 28. I have suffered no ill effects whatsoever. So much for food safety labelling.

Viv Coffey
Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

Not music to my ears

SIR – My greatest pleasure in listening to Classic FM is not just the film music, the adverts or the travel news, but hearing them trying to pronounce Eugene Onegin.

Geoffrey Hodgson
Leeds, West Yorkshire

Over-familiarity: Kevin Spacey ridicules Jason Bateman in Horrible Bosses

6:57AM BST 22 Oct 2014


SIR – As Steve Baldock and Ruth Huneke demonstrate, different generations have different values regarding how best to address a person. Surely the only social skill required to solve this is listening.

If Steve Baldock is introduced as “Mr Baldock” or “Steve”, then call him that.

Over-familiarisation and abbreviation should be avoided, and it shouldn’t be assumed that because a woman wears a wedding ring, the surname she gives is her married name.

Lesley-Jane Rogers
Bishopswood, Somerset

SIR – I was once interviewing youngsters for a warehouse job when a lad seated himself in front of me, still wearing a full-face crash helmet.

He had the courtesy to raise the visor, which enabled him to hear my two-word suggestion that he quickly leave my presence.

Chris Mitchell
Houghton on the Hill, Leicestershire

SIR – Mr Baldock should count himself lucky to be addressed by his Christian name by interviewees.

When speaking to potential candidates for a position in my firm, I try not to wince when they call me “mate”. They’re all good tree surgeons, I am sure, but sometimes they lack the courtesy to turn up for the interview.

My recruitment advertisement asks for candidates with “good manners and a sense of humour” – have I been hoist by my own climbing rope?

John Handy
Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire

SIR – Mr Baldock’s letter reminds of the day a new member of staff joined the company I was working for and called the boss “Freddie”.

The boss told him: “My best friends call me ‘Freddie’, my staff call me ‘Mister’, others call me ‘Sir’. You may call me ‘God’.”

David Horchover
Eastcote, Middlesex

On a roll: Nicole Cooke celebrates her win at the Road World Championships in Italy, 2008 Photo: Getty Images

6:58AM BST 22 Oct 2014


SIR – In last week’s Pub Quiz, Gavin Fuller states that Tommy Simpson was the first British cyclist to be world Road Race champion in 1965, and asks who the second was, in 2011 (the intended answer being Mark Cavendish).

In fact, the first British Road Race champion was the marvellous Beryl Burton, in 1960, a full five years before Tommy Simpson.

And the third British win? Beryl Burton again, in 1967. So does that make Mark Cavendish the fourth British winner? Of course not, that would be Nicole Cooke in 2008, relegating Cavendish to fifth place in the list of British champions.

Gill Taylor
Riddlesden, West Yorkshire

Taking the lead: it is one thing to lead a party, but quite another to lead the country Photo: AFP/GETTY

6:59AM BST 22 Oct 2014


SIR – Ahead of next year’s general election, vote-catching policies are being generated in response to policies put out the day before by rival parties. Yet, ultimately, the choice of voters will be centred around the leadership potential of individuals – a worrying thought.

Far too little attention is given to the contrasting skills required for a party leader and a prime minister. It is one thing to come up with a manifesto and sell it to the party faithful and the swing voter; it is quite another to demonstrate capabilities of statesmanship on a national or world stage, negotiating with those of opposing views and reaching compromises.

Credibility, presence, gravitas, diplomacy and common sense must prevail over party politics if progress is to be made and the country is to rally behind. Do all of our prospective leaders meet these criteria?

Let us hope that after the dust settles in 2015 we will have a prime minister who can lead the nation and not just their party.

Dave Alderson
Winchester, Hampshire

Youthful congregation

SIR – At a conference of our parochial church council, all three churches listed “attracting young people” as an aim. I mentioned that a church I know of holds a service on Sunday afternoons to encourage families whose children are involved in Sunday-morning sport to attend.

I was told that it is “tradition” to hold services at 10.30 or 11am. Unless churches look for ways to attract younger people, even it if means dispensing with tradition, our congregations will indeed wither away.

Alice Fowles
Surbiton, Surrey

Outgoing European Commission President Barroso addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg Photo: Reuters

7:00AM BST 22 Oct 2014


SIR – Authority to make your own laws, control your own currency and control your borders must be cornerstones of a sovereign nation, along with the possibility of changing a government which is out of kilter with the electorate. So how can José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing European Commission president, speak of a union of sovereign nations when none of these properties apply to most member states?

The end point of an “ever-closer union” is a single country with a single currency, no internal border restrictions and one in which all laws will be made, or subject to approval, by Brussels.

C B Rosenberg
Farnham, Surrey

SIR – Mr Barroso says that “migration has been good for Britain”, which is an over-simplification. It fails to address the shoals of foreigners who sit on the streets of Britain’s cities begging, or the stress upon our health service and infrastructure, which must cope with housing millions of extra people.

Britain does need immigrants, but only those who contribute.

My friends in the oil business travel overseas to work and then return home after paying whatever taxes they are required to stump up where they work. EU and non-EU workers similarly should be allowed to work here, pay National Insurance, just as we do, and then return home when they have completed their contracts.

Andrew H N Gray

SIR – I would like to disagree with the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchard, who claims that Britain should provide more funding to support a Sangatte-style centre, arguing that the migrants are only in Calais because they want to settle in the UK.

The main problem is the EU’s Schengen policy, which was created to facilitate movement of nationals from member states, not sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. With great foresight, we opted out. If France had done the same, she could refuse entry at her borders and not blame us for being the modern “promised land”.

We are, I believe, the second-most-crowded country in Europe, and cannot absorb more people.

Eunice Phipps
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I keep hearing that the free movement of peoples is a cornerstone of the EU project.

If a cornerstone is faulty, and threatens the integrity of a structure, it needs to be replaced or the structure will collapse.

Arnold Kingston
Four Elms, Kent

SIR – Populism must be firmly resisted or we shall end up with democracy.

Hugh Davy
Thames Ditton, Surrey

Diagnosis: many think the proposed payment would create a conflct of interest

4:49PM BST 22 Oct 2014


SIR – A spokesman for NHS England describes the unnecessary proposal that GPs be paid £55 for each dementia diagnosis as “an investment”. To put this money into the pockets of professionals who are paid well to perform a service which should already be part of their remit, at a time when other areas of the health service appear to be under great strain, is bizarre to say the least.

Trying to dignify this action by calling it an investment does a disservice both to GPs and their patients, who will trust their doctors less. It also exposes the management of NHS England to ridicule and the taxpayer to the distressing prospect of being made complicit in the corruption of what we once took pride in calling a family doctor service.

Pat Othen
Penketh, Cheshire

SIR – When I was admitted to an NHS hospital last April, I was asked 10 questions to determine if I had dementia. It took less than five minutes.

Therefore, if any payment should be considered necessary, surely a GP should get only, say, £10 per diagnosis, rather than the proposed £55.

Dr Michael Irwin
Cranleigh, Surrey

SIR – Surely the “diagnosis” money offered to GPs would be better spent on specialist training for staff in dementia care homes, or support for those who care for people with dementia in their own homes.

Esther Chamberlain
Preston Crowmarsh, Oxfordshire

SIR – Paying doctors for dementia diagnoses runs the risk of aping dental policy in the Sixties, when Australian dentists were tempted to Britain with payments per filling (£1, I think).

The resulting carnage in the mouths of adults and children became known as “Aussie trench” and funded some superb dental surgeries back in Australia.

Damien McCrystal
London W14

SIR – Can we now expect teachers to be paid for marking books and police to be paid for arresting people?

Carol Forshaw
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – Is it not enough we have to bribe our bankers to do their jobs? Now GPs, too?

Elizabeth Sharp
Faversham, Kent

SIR – Only 2,727 patients with dementia would be required to purchase one Bentley.

Michael Clemson
Horsmonden, Kent

SIR – If I self-diagnose, and my GP confirms it, do I get the 55 quid or does he?

Gordon Garment
Chipping, Lancashire

Irish Times:

Sir, – It has been interesting to see a host of academics venting spleen about the fee-paying primary and secondary education sectors in your letters pages over the last few weeks. This was made all the more interesting by the fact they were proceeded by a host of academics venting spleen in the wider media about the lack of fees in the university sector. It seems that what is bad for the goose is highly desired by the gander. – Yours, etc,


Foxrock, Dublin 18.

Sir, – I become incredibly frustrated when I read articles such as the one written by Ciaran O’Neill when he writes about low-income families subsidising education they cannot “hope to bestow” on their children (“Paying for privilege”, Education Analysis, October 24th).

No-one disputes that every child has the right to a state-funded education. In fee-paying schools the parents subsidise additional facilities out of their own net income. The fees parents pay include costs such as light, heat, repairs, etc, costs normally incurred by the state in non-fee-paying schools. The vast majority of parents make considerable sacrifices to put their children through these schools. The upshot is that it costs the state less to educate a child through a fee-paying school than a non-fee-paying school. This is an undisputed fact and why the department will never “open its books” to the public.

I put it to Mr O’Neill that the parents of fee-paying schools are subsidising the taxpayer and not vice versa. If the money given to fee-paying schools were withdrawn, this could only lead to an increase in the school fees. An increase most parents simply could not afford because the vast majority of parents scrimp and save to put their children through these schools. There would also be a massive migration to non-fee-paying schools and the state plainly couldn’t cope. It is therefore ironic that the state is dependent on these schools to remain open as it could not afford for these schools to close. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – I was thrilled to read Ciaran O’Neill’s fascinating analysis of private education in this country.

What I do not understand is why the 93 per cent of the people in this country who have not been and will never be educated privately are not up in arms about the annual subvention of €100 million that goes from our collective pockets into bastions of privilege that only serve to reinforce and strengthen the inequality in our society.

I recently told my sister – who has no children and pays her taxes – that thanks to her taxes the private schools in our catchment area are now in a position to resurface their tennis courts, restring the violins of their orchestras, and pay for a physiotherapist to be pitch-side when the elite children of Ireland line out for their school sport. At first she was astonished and then horrified. She had no idea that the system of education in Ireland is funded in this manner. How many other people out there, who are struggling to pay their mortgages, dreading property tax and marching against water charges, have considered the fact that their taxes are propping up a fundamentally unequal and unjust education system from which they will never benefit and which, by virtue of the very privilege bestowed upon its pupils, will only serve to disadvantage them further? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – I was flabbergasted at the response from Dr William R Fitzsimmons (October 22nd) to the article “Students are guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment” (Education Opinion, October 14th). The so-called holistic system he speaks of is one that works in theory and may be successful in the United States.

Unfortunately, this is Ireland and alternative methods of entry here can too easily fall victim to the cronyism that has infected this country to the core.

It has been clearly documented that personal statements, entrance examinations (in whatever form they take) and interviews favour students from a higher socio-economic background.

The fact that most of our third-level institutions are grossly underfunded will also put pressure to accept donations of finance that could be used to oil the wheels of alternative entry systems.

Those in Harvard, and similar world-class institutions, with their large endowments and grants, do not have this issue.

The CAO system, which I accept has its faults, is still a fair system that does not and cannot take into account where the student is from, how well they hold a fork or who their daddy or mommy is. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Dr William Fitzsimons, dean of admissions at Harvard, who wrote in defence of TCD’s student admission experiment, was chairman of the 2008 US Commission on the Use of Standardised Tests in Undergraduate Admission.

That commission’s 2008 report states: “Universities may be better served by admission exams more closely related to high school curriculum”. The points system of admission does this.

The report further says that such exams “send a message to students that studying their course material in high school is the way to . . . succeed in a rigorous college curriculum”. The points system sends this message. The commission further states that preparation for non-curricular tests by school pupils “detracts from the most important element of a student’s college preparation – understanding the core subject matter”. The commission also expresses a concern that preparation for non-curricular tests may be more accessible to the affluent.

Eccentric admission experiments by elite institutions rely on the national system to admit those rejected in the experiment. The points system is a national system. TCD’s experiment can never be. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5.

Sir, – The claim that future Irish retirees are at risk of not having a State pension is ridiculous (“Warning that retired Irish workers not guaranteed State pension”, October 22nd). It is yet another example of how the financial services sector is allowed free rein to spin all manner of hysterical nonsense in its never-ending lobbying to ensure the government of the day does its bidding.

If every retiree turned 65 on the same day and gave up working on the same day and had no other savings or pension provision, and there were no other people working in the country at the time, then it would be a disaster. But in reality that will never be the case and if it were, then pension would be the least of our worries. Furthermore, the pensions paid to retirees are not lost to the State. The cost from one side of the ledger is recouped on the other side through taxation, spending in local and national economies; even savings from pensions are subject to tax.

In its most recent report, the Australian Centre for Financial Studies, on whose figures the above claims were made, gave one country (Denmark) an A rating but no one is claiming that the pension schemes of all the other countries are about to go bust.

The financial services lobby may have a point that not enough Irish people save sufficiently for their retirement. Such an argument is part of a wider debate where the Government has failed to address Irish living costs so that people have sufficient extra income to save for a pension and in general. It has failed to address why two incomes are needed to service a 35-year mortgage on a small, bland, badly designed and poorly built house or why childcare and travel costs take up so much of a family’s income.

But another problem stems from the excessive charges and penalties applied by Irish product providers, which also prefer to deflect attention from the fact that most annual growth on pension funds is due to the tax relief added to the net premium and not any return generated by the industry. Take out the tax relief and the charges and perhaps attention might finally turn to why investments in Irish financial products provide such a poor return relative to similar investments in other countries.

But that would require breaking the financial conflict of interest between the political system and a financial services lobby that has free and unregulated access to government and a veto over the decision-making process. – Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf, London.

Sir, – I read and re-read Fr Vincent Twomey’s article (“Synod feeds secular agenda hostile to traditional family”, Opinion & Analysis, October 18th) several times and then it struck me! Think how much confusion would have been avoided if God had placed a few orthodox theologians alongside Jesus Christ, just to keep him on the right path.

They could have enforced a more rigid theology than the simplistic approach adopted by Jesus and his sidekick Paul, who, in his letter to the Corinthians, placed rather too much emphasis on love. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

A chara, – It is a pity that those criticising Fr Twomey (a brilliant and good man) don’t seem to have read Humanae Vitae. To paraphrase Chesterton, the ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried. – Is mise,




Tír Chonaill.

Sir, – Dave Kavanagh (October 21st) is somewhat missing the point – if a woman has lived her life with her father’s (or mother’s) surname, then it is also her surname.

Her life, friendships, educational achievements and career will be bound to that identity. That she would uproot herself from these by abruptly taking on her husband’s surname (or indeed, her mother’s maiden name) is certainly an interesting social phenomenon.

Of course people are free to make their own choices in these matters, but it should be a choice and not just a habit. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Further to John McKenna’s “The best thing since sliced bread? Ban the sliced pan” (Health + Family, October 21st), just because white bread is bad for swans, I do not see why the same is true for humans.

I have been eating it for over 60 years and have come to no harm as a result, but, like the swans, I would draw the line at mouldy bread. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – In my unsuccessful attempts to find work experience for transition year, I have noticed something interesting. The places where teenagers spend their money – high street chains, department stores, restaurants, coffee shops and hair salons – provide no work experience for transition-year students, even though the work is unpaid.

It is all left to schools, hospitals, libraries, and some multinational companies like Google to give us a week of work. I am one disillusioned teenager. – Yours, etc,


Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – When I read that Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea (Oireachtas Report, October 22nd) will not be submitting his PPS number to Irish Water because of its response to queries he has made, I must admit that I laughed like a drain. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – How come local authority staffs around the country were for many years able to deliver water to our taps without the need of a bonus culture? It’s unsettling to think of our water supply being handed over to the monopoly that is Irish Water, where it now seems “bonuses” will be paid to staff who do not even reach the required performance standard.

What impact is this performance/bonus system going to have on the price charged to consumers now and in the future? – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Minister for Finance Noonan tells us water charges will be “modest”. Yet no-one seems to know what “modest” means! People who have signed their Irish water forms have signed a blank cheque.

Furthermore, does Mr Noonan realise that a charge of €188 for call-out for Irish water to fix a pipe (pipes in all probability of ancient provenance) is a full week’s disability benefit for a disabled person? That is not acceptable.

The poorest and most vulnerable cannot either afford “modest” or €188. There is simply nothing left to give. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – In Greek mythology, the hydra was a huge monster with many heads. If one was cut off, two would grow in its place. Perhaps Irish Water should adopt the hydra as its emblem. – Yours, etc,



Co Clare.

Sir, – I have been giving thought to our water bills coming in so soon after all the Christmas expenses! Listening to a radio advert for gift vouchers for a local business, it suddenly hit me – the proverbial bottle of wine or equivalent which we usually take when visiting over the festive season can be dispensed with. Let’s ask Irish Water to issue gift vouchers then we can all bring those instead. That way we’ll be sure the washing-up can be done when we’ve left! – Yours, etc,



Co Sligo.

Sir, – Bonus schemes for staff operate in many companies. They are usually contingent on a number of factors, such as individual performance with regard to meeting goals and the company’s performance with regard to meeting targets. Here’s a target for them – bonuses to be paid only when, if ever, a minimum of 95 per cent of the water in the system is delivered to a consumer. Let the appalling volume of leaked water which is allowed to leak out of the system be brought under control before any bonus is considered.

Targets for bonus-earning usually come under a few headings. One of the main ones is increasing company revenue.

No employee of Irish water can induce us to use more water than we need, given that they cannot supply more than they have available and what is available at present is being over-used.

The next most common criterion for a bonus is increasing the customer base.

This is outside the control of the staff of Irish Water, unless they extend the range of piped water supplies.

We have been told of the levels of bonus that staff members might receive if they meet targets, but we have not been told what those targets will be, nor have we been told who will set and monitor them. It might be interesting to see the finer details. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Is Irish Water a busted flush? – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – “Furthermore, the escalation of street politics has its own inherent dangers that should be obvious to all of us on this island.” (Michael Joy, October 22nd). That’s funny; the governor of Hong Kong said the same thing only last week. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – In addition to the anger and disbelief expressed by so many on the general terms of the bonuses for Irish Water executives, there is a further point that needs to be addressed – the extent to which the sliding scale of those bonus payments will benefit most those already doing very well indeed.

Widening inequality has a negative impact on society. Granting 19 per cent bonuses to those at the top and a mere 4 per cent to those at the bottom is a step in the wrong direction. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Yesterday most households in the New Ross area received two letters from Mick Wallace and Claire Daly, inviting us to a public meeting in a local hotel to oppose water charges. Postage was paid for by the Dáil, ie the taxpayer. Mr Wallace and Ms Daly oppose people paying for water but expect the same people to pay for their postage. Charming. – Yours, etc,


New Ross,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – Most utilities fund the cost of infrastructure maintenance and repair from the standing charge component of their income.

To charge directly for repairs discourages consumers from reporting faults and leakages, which is potentially both dangerous and wasteful. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Drip, drip, drip. When will it ever end? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 11.

Irish Independent:

The man in the pub looked into his glass. The pronouncement that followed showed foreboding and disdain in equal measure.

The Irish soccer team that would that evening oppose the might of the world football champions on Germany’s home turf would be duly humiliated. “Lambs to the slaughter” and “couldn’t kick snow off a rope” were some of the more printable phrases that tripped off his tongue.

John O’Shea’s glorious equaliser in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, was something of a setback to his prophecy. The pundit is slowly recovering from this reversal and is now focusing on Ireland’s next competitive fixture – Scotland in Glasgow.

Here, Ireland will be truly exposed at the back and will lack penetration up front.

I know this to be true because the man in the pub told me.

His glass remains half empty.

Come on Ireland!

Tony Wallace

Longwood, Co Meath


Bonus plan doesn’t hold water

“Slobbering in the water” best describes the debacle that is Irish Water. Even more so, when one considers it cost €180m – most of the spend going to outside consultants – to launch the company.

The obvious first step would be to ensure that the national pipe network was replaced to the point where all water passed from the supply source in an enclosed system is free of all forms of contamination.

Then, similar to the National Electrical Grid and supply sources, private metered connections could be made to every house in the State, guaranteeing a quality product to all. The quality standard is even more serious in the case of water because it is a consumable product on which the health of the nation depends. Only at this point should it be legally possible to price and market the product to the public.

Is this the procedure with Irish Water? Unfortunately, no. Problems with contaminated water having to be boiled for safety and countless undetected underground leaks causing huge losses of water are countrywide. Tens of thousands of water meters are still in the process of being installed.

In these circumstances, isn’t it scandalous to waste time discussing bonuses for its 500 highly paid staff when delivering on water is its prime objective? Senior management are to be paid €9,000 in top-ups, while the harder workers down the line are offered considerably less to meet the same targets.

Irish Water is a semi-state company still in its infancy. Is it right or honest that bonuses should be demanded or paid at this critical stage – wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect all personnel first to prove they are, at least, capable of their tasks?

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary


Power lines – go underground

If there is any question about whether the power lines should go over or underground then ask any of the people who have been left without power in recent weeks – in one case for 18 hours.

Most of the power outages were caused by fallen lines.

Eamon Ward

Gorey, Co Wexford


Don’t envy Iceland

Writing from London, Desmond FitzGerald accuses those of us who live in Ireland, and put up with the consequences of the economic calamity that hit this country, of indulging in “myths” and not knowing what we are talking about (Letters, Irish Independent, October 18).

In his letter he says that Ireland “became bankrupt because of deliberate choices made by the ECB”.

He ignores the fact that before the ECB made those “deliberate choices” Ireland’s problems were created by the equally deliberate decisions of a small number of its own most powerful citizens during the boom. In highlighting the “difference” between “sovereign debt” and “private banking debt” he ignores the fact that it was all Irish debt and was, therefore, our responsibility.

When he cites Iceland, he ignores the fact that Iceland had no option but to default, since, according to the experts, its banking debt was six times its GDP and it did not have the backing of the EU and the ECB. He also ignores the fact that, again according to the experts, it devalued its currency by half – which made Icelanders much poorer – its capital controls pushed away investment and its mass mortgage write-offs ensured that savers lost their money.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13


Irish Water: the solution

I think I have it solved – the whole Irish Water thing!

Rather than extending the time that people can avoid an extra charge that some might say makes a mockery of equality, why doesn’t Irish Water allow those who won’t or can’t pay/register/apply (who, don’t forget, are citizens who previously owned this precious resource) to do community service, like the bankers who were found guilty after an extremely expensive legal case?

Maybe watering the flowers in Stephen’s Green or giving water to the animals in Dublin Zoo , or even pulling pints in the Dail bar – where it was reported some politicians found it quite difficult to settle their bills – could be forced as penalties upon the thousands who marched against water charges?

Perhaps those on this community service could check reservoirs as an early warning system for hosepipe bans in case we get an unusually dry and sunny summer. We might – oh, sorry I used “we” there, I thought I was in a democracy for a second.

Dermot Ryan

Athenry, Co Galway


Moral vacuum on rising rents

News of the increase in house prices (Irish Independent, October 20) will be cold comfort to the rising number of working people falling into homelessness due to unaffordable rents in Dublin. The Government and the media appear to be united in refusing to entertain a discussion of rent controls – perhaps many of them are landlords?

In the moral vacuum of our neoliberal, free market economy, more and more people are inevitably becoming consigned to what critic Henry Giroux calls “zones of abandonment and social death, where they become unknowables, with no human rights and no one accountable for their condition”.

The logic of a profit-driven system dictates that the cost of socio-economic protections is unjustifiable, but it also means that we have failed in our collective civic responsibility to our fellow citizens.

Maeve Halpin

Ranelagh, Dublin 6


Taxing the web

I laughed out loud at your article headlined ‘Hungary plans tax on internet use’ (Irish Independent, October 22).

I’ve never Googled as much in my life as I have with the search term “water charges”.

If Enda Inc were to introduce the web tax, I may as well move to Budapest and be done with it all!

Fiona Purcell

Drogheda, Co Louth


Sex is God’s creation

It is the job of the Catholic Church’s government to discern, here and now, what Christ is saying to humanity – and, most importantly, what He is not saying.

Since the day of his election, Pope Francis has been trying to get this across to us all, especially to the recent synod.

For example, traditional church teaching on sex is still tainted by the negativity of St Augustine, because of his own formal life-style. Sex is a positive entity, the mainspring of God’s ongoing creation. Sex is good, precious and beautiful. The church must rescue sex from the filth of this age, not frown on it as part of the problem.

Why are women still excluded from having any real say or meaningful role in church governance? Why does the church still impose compulsory celibacy on all clergy? Does the Vatican know, or care, what ordinary lay people think on these and similar subjects?

Sean McElgunn

Address with Editor

Irish Independent


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